Bon Tortou

Gurupreet Khalsa

After Mark Doty


A busy turtle can achieve a remarkable pace (turtle hurtles) 

if he has an urgent appointment

with a green tomato (lying on the grass because 

I flung it away from the garden –

it had a caterpillar eating a hole in its tender skin), 

or with a mushroom swaying on a pithy stalk,

to gnaw chunks out of its ochre-dusted cap.


The water turtles line up on the half-submerged log

with their flat wide backs ripe to the sun.

When I approach, they wake

and plop into the bayou in a musical cadence.

I don’t see them for a minute,

then I glimpse their fast little legs

strumming the water, heads bobbing

above the tree-reflected surface.


In the sky, a hawk

swoops like a stunt pilot

on a level no turtle can see.


Once, yes, somehow, what is it about

a snapping turtle that feels entitled

to occupy the middle of the road?

He was a big hubcap fellow

both angry and embarrassed

about losing his way

which of course was not my way.

       Have you lost your way?

       “’I don’t know what you mean by your way,’

       said the Queen: ‘all the ways about here

       belong to me.’”

I was bigger but he had the panache

to claim the space.

A poke with a stick intimidated him

not the least.

In my heart, I had his welfare foremost.

He wanted to make his own decision.

Should I stand guard, bon tortou,

while you make your way across

the pavement? You know nothing

of mail trucks or delivery vans,

and ugly as you are, and determined,

and intent

and brooking no dissent

I love you.


Does a turtle dream of flight?

or only of the grass at the side of the road?

GURUPREET K. KHALSA is a current resident of Mobile, Alabama, having lived previously in Ohio, Washington State, India, New Mexico, and California. She is a former middle-school English teacher and holds a Ph.D. in Instructional Design. Partially retired, she is a part time professor for online graduate courses in Education.