Saturday, November 17, 2012


Among the last to last, despite every conceivable handicap and vulnerability

I took this picture from shreds of a leaf, in my hotel room, across the street from the Alipore Zoo (Chidiya-khaana, as it is called in Calcutta).

(from Wikipedia): The Alipore Zoo in India was the home to Adwaita (trans. non-duality), which zoo officials claimed was the oldest living animal until its death on March 23, 2006. Adwaita was an Aldabra giant tortoise brought to India by Lord Wellesley, who handed it over to the Alipur Zoological Gardens in 1875 when the zoo was set up. West Bengal officials said records showed Adwaita was at least 150 years old, but other evidence pointed to 250. Adwaita was said to be the pet of Robert Clive.

To a Box Turtle

Size of a small skull, and like a skull segmented, 
of pentagons healed and varnished to form a dome, 
you almost went unnoticed in the meadow, 
among its tall grasses and serrated strawberry leaves 
your mottle of amber and umber effective camouflage.
You were making your way through grave distances, 
your forefeet just barely extended and as dainty as dried 
coelacanth fins, as miniature sea-fans, your black nails 
decadent like a Chinese empress’s, and your head 
a triangular snake-head, eyes ringed with dull gold.
I pick you up. Your imperious head withdraws. 
Your bottom plate, hinged once, presents a No 
with its courteous waxed surface, a marquetry 
of inlaid squares, fine-grained and tinted 
tobacco-brown and the yellow of a pipe smoker’s teeth.
What are you thinking, thus sealed inside yourself? 
My hand must have a smell, a killer’s warmth. 
It holds you upside down, aloft, undignified, 
your leathery person amazed in the floating dark. 
How much pure fear can your wrinkled brain contain?
I put you down. Your tentative, stalk-bending walk 
resumes. The manifold jewel of you melts into grass. 
Power mowers have been cruel to your race, and creatures 
less ornate and unlikely have long gone extinct; 
but nature’s tumults pool to form a giant peace.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


A sinewy leaf, a fish or a turtle, what does it matter even if fossilized, when it is as beautiful as this?