Low Reptilian

Turtle rests on grass.

Low reptilian
does not so much plod
as scrape the dirt behind it
with turned-in claws,
heaving its dome,
stretching the skin of
neck and legs as if intention
alone propels forward.

We define its virtues:
patience
determination
persistence
in the face of obstacles and distractions.

(When the kids capture one it
always gets out from inside
the backyard fence.)

Who gave it the reputation of reclusive placidity?
I see an impatient straining against
its massive mound of protection.
No choice but to be forever burdened.
Hatched this way.
Won't outgrow it.
(That reserved for snake and butterfly.)

And so the virtue list includes
endurance.
But I do not see a tolerance of
how it has to go —
(Clocked by someone at one-half
kilometer per hour.)

Turned over, incapacitated,
the limbs beat the air
continually until ... death?

Deep in dry leaves under trees
maybe the deer nose it from the
rocking dome onto
the smooth underplate
the way a hiker's book toes it over.

Does a bear or coon or possum
looking for a meal
and departing, unsuccessful,
leave it by chance
on its feet?

Did its heart race with fear
and uncertainty,
shortening its long life?
Will it now die of old age?
Or of boredom.

We know nothing of its inner life.
Perhaps its pace
facilitates reverie,
as anyone slowed not by
illness or injury
but by intention
finds out.

Maybe after its century of
twilight grazing
those veiled shadowless hours
between the two worlds of
day and night
impart to its small brain
an intimation of
their enchantment.

And in its slow thoughts
perhaps its clawing steps move in
some prehistoric memory of flippers
before it flapped the last time
from the sea to creep
permanently in dirt.

If in its long warm days
immobile in the sun,
if like us
it dreams of flying
then like us it knows the feel
of lifting unwebbed limbs
to soar.

And the legs,
straining against the earth
or after some accident
reaching in the sky,

are wings.