Issue 99 - Charles Harper Webb

by Charles Harper Webb

That snappin' turtle bites you, boy, he won't let go till it thunders.
                                         ---Granny Clark 

Plucked from a freeway with intent
      to save, or dragged from swamp muck
            with intent to kill, the thick-

tailed, moss-backed, pre-dinosaurial
      snapper arrows out its baleful
            head. Chomp! Its jagged, gaping

beak---if it doesn't slice right
      through the doughy flesh, leaving
            a gush of blood and one less digit

on some screaming not-so-sapiens---
      clamps tight as a drowning man
            around a lifeguard's neck; tight as cold

chokes an Antarctic July; as the optic
      nerve's door locks against the blind;
            tight as my mother clung to God

despite Dad's stroke and her dead eyes.
      What terror in that grip: the turtle,
            slammed into a brick wall, holding

on; stabbed through the shell, yet
      holding on; shot up with opiates,
            arsenic, muscle-relaxant, holding

on; its head lopped off, still
      holding on; the body burned, jaws
            holding on; time irrelevant, death

having no dominion, jaws clamped
      tight with no reprieve, no faltering
            unless God Himself, in mercy,

anger, or perversity, makes lightning
      sizzle between clouds. Then the sky,
            baked to sixty thousand degrees,

opens its jaws. Out comes release,
      relief. Out comes your mangled, bloody
            meat. Out comes thunder.