Tortoise This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

July 15, 2011
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Your eyes
There’s nothing like them
They have seen everything, those eyes
Muddy waters swirling beneath the surface
I don’t know how deep
When they connect with mine
My heart stops for a moment
And I think I will sink
Down, down, down
Into your eyes

You don’t pull your head into your shell
You don’t see the point anymore
It won’t protect you
Not from this life
No, you don’t pull in your head
When the children come up to “pet” you
To wipe their greasy hands down your shell
And to tell each other how ugly you are
With your dry skin, your wrinkled face
And then they run off, to the next exhibit
With the ugly, tired old tortoise

But they’re wrong
You are beautiful, old girl
And you are old
90, they say
But you could live another 50 years
I wonder what it’s like
Watching the children
A new batch every day, every month, every year
They never change, do they?

You stand
On a bright white sheet
As teenage volunteers, like me
Drone out facts
“This is our desert tortoise.
She is part of an endangered species.
She is here at the museum with us because
She was captured and kept as a pet when she was very young
But she wasn’t taken very good care of,
So she got shell rot.
And she can’t be released into the wild.”
But they don’t care
Not really
They are scraping away the hours here
For college credit
Do you care, old girl?
Who feeds you
And cleans your droppings
And carries you around in that cage
How many volunteers have been your caretakers?
Over the years
None of them really care about you, do they?

And I wonder,
Do you remember the desert?
The scorching winds
Sweeping sands
Grasses rising out of the rocks
Cacti flowers, Scurrying lizards, Hawks overhead
Do you miss it?
Here, in this air conditioned building
Where everything is white, and cold metal, and sterile
This building, full of animals but void of life

And I think
Maybe I will try a little harder
To smile while I give my presentation
To keep the kids’ attention
To tell them about what has happened to you
To your kind
To tell them what they can do
To help wildlife
I don’t know what I’ll say
But anything is a start

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