They meet on the mountain, carrying orange, yellow
and black calligraphy through October rain.
Male and female, elastic necks stretch out in prehistoric
passion beneath silvery leaves: concave lower plate
presses against carapace. Puzzle pieces, twin halves,
they’ve roamed the underbrush looking for this yes.
Her tail sweeps to one side, his rear plastron lowers,
back legs link. Lust holds them steady; claws rake top shell,
carve wet red clay. Topaz eyes dazzle like tiny suns.
Their hunger persists on convoluted ridges of oak and pine,
cedar and alder; endures separate solitudes under thick
wineberry and blackberry vines; navigates granite slabs,
a creek wandering through whole galaxies. Beaks bite,
shells crack—this is no tame lovemaking—the male rises
on the stiff back edge of his shell, thrusts in slow motion.
It's late in the season, but female turtle, old soul, survivor,
makes of herself a living time portal; stores her mate’s seed
in her body’s secret compartment. All winter, she’ll hibernate
inside a hollowed-out space in the heart of the forest. By spring,
her mate may be far away, mounting some other fiery sister.
It won't matter. When she is ready, this small mountain
of a mother will unfreeze time, let egg and sperm rendezvous.
In the saddle between Big House and Little House Mountains
she'll dig her nest on a humid summer night. In due time,
small slow pilgrims will plow their way out from the earth—
each hatchling choosing a direction, each soul setting off to scale
what can’t be scaled. Each shell bearing black brushstrokes:
a scripture of blessings for traveling through time.
A Literary Field Guide to