This poem appears in the Spring 2017 issue of Modern Age. To subscribe now, go here.
They pulled me from my sleep in the low bunk,
My mother and grandmother, in one’s arms
While the other draped me with a garbage bag.
We moved as one through the dark house, which shook
Beneath the brunt of wind and the hard tack
Of rain on glass, down through the pried-back shingles.
Toted like that, I saw recede behind us
The barrel trunk of a black walnut, fallen
From where its fellows towered among the air
With leaves turned wild and raving gorgons’ heads.
It lay there, settled, slumbering, its neck propped
Upon the roof’s slick, lacerated back.
They carried me into the neighbors’ house,
Where, days before, in much more measured winds,
I’d brought a snapping turtle as a gift,
Its young neck straining from the shell. And there,
I found it, in a fish bowl, starving, food
It wouldn’t touch adrift about its head.
For all of nature’s fierce and darksome visage,
I’d caught her spawn within my grasp and held it,
Plucked from the angled boatlift where it sunned
Above still water. Staring on it now,
I asked and was allowed to carry it out
Into the beating storm to set it free.
James Matthew Wilson is associate professor of religion and literature at Villanova University.