In marshy sloughs beneath the upper dam,
turtles sun on half-submerged tree-trunks.
It’s early April, and warm enough
to stir in us ambivalent enjoyment—
we like the weather but worry about the climate.
If we’re still, the turtles remain
badged darkly on dark branches, their shells
the dull burnish of antique coins
or the worn polish of old soldiers’ helmets
unearthed from a forgotten battlefield.
How sensitive they are to any sudden
motion of ours. Yet they cohabit
peacefully with a pair of nesting
Canada geese in their calm backwater
ringed with cattails and soon-to-leaf willows.
How stagnant, already, their tiny inlet,
scummy with pea-soup green, possibly
grown from the same toxic phosphorous
fertilizer runoff from yards and fields
making dead zones in the Mississippi.
Dead zones in us too? Who will change it
if not us? And how long can the turtles,
so practically armored by nature, whose heads
dimple the filmy water when they duck
our scrutiny, keep soldiering on?
—Thomas R. Smith
Illustration: Claire Palmer