the museum of americana

a literary review

Turtles—Poetry by Tony Barnstone

Why do I stand here watching who I was plummeting away
            like an astronaut off his tether?

Whatever happened before I entered this market is gone.
            I am leaping second to second like a monkey.

A toddler squats on a tabletop, bisecting corn grains with a
            box cutter while his mom sells me chicken-fried gator.

Last time I was here he was still swimming towards birth.

Turtles with spined, segmented shells climb and slip, the
            universe wobbles and shifts, and a black fish in a
            white pan curls yin-yang, alive, alive and still alive a
            little while until the knife, the pan, the heat, the teeth.

The concrete floor is sunflower seeded, with wilted piles of
            wildly mixed flesh, pig gristle, frybread, koolickles, bits
            of Frito pie—spat out, tossed, all the uneaten bits.

What was there before there was was or before? Where
            were we before there was there?

“What holds the world up?” a child asked his father, a Zen
            master.

“A great turtle carries it on his back.” “And what’s beneath
            the turtle?” “Another turtle.” “And under that?” “It’s
            turtles all the way down,” the flustered father said.

Later, he told a friend, “He had me backed against a wall! I
            had to say something.”

And there by the deep-fried butter balls and donut-burger
            stand, the reindeer pizza and pickled turkey gizzard
            jars, a plastic bin where a dozen rattlesnakes coil and
            slip, worming slick on each other like arching bodies
            of the naked damned, waiting to be Southern fried, or
            boiled into a spicy white bean chili.

Above, in hanging white mesh balls, green grasshoppers the
            size of a fat finger crawl, singing. How would you cook
            a grasshopper?

In a wire cage, waiting to be flayed and deboned, tenderized
            and barbequed till steaming, and popped into the
            mouth hot, a squirrel gnaws the metal and hops like a
            jittery rat.

And like dark ghosts wailing in the weeds, like plastic
            wrapping without the candy, these words stretch
            ahead of me in time, littering the future — a pile of
            turtle shells peeled away from the meat.

(Adventure Market, Kentucky)

 
~~~
Tony Barnstone is Professor of English and Environment Studies at Whittier College and the author of 20 books and a music CD. He has a Masters in English and Creative Writing and Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California at Berkeley. In addition to Pulp Sonnets, his books of poetry include Beast in the Apartment; Tongue of War: From Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki, winner of the John Ciardi Prize in Poetry; The Golem of Los Angeles which won the Poets Prize and the Benjamin Saltman Award in Poetry; Sad Jazz: Sonnets; and Impure: Poems by Tony Barnstone, and a chapbook of poems titled Naked Magic (Main Street Rag). He is also an anthologist, a co-translator of Chinese poetry and literary prose, and an editor of literary textbooks. His bilingual Spanish/English selected poems, Buda en Llamas: Antología poética (1999-2012) appeared in 2014. His CD of folk rock/blues songs (in collaboration with singer-songwriters Ariana Hall and John Clinebell, based upon Tongue of War and titled Tokyo’s Burning: World War II Songs) is available on Amazon.com, Rhapsody, and CD Baby. His forthcoming books are a co-translation of the Urdu poet Ghalib (White Pine Press), the anthology Republic of Apples, Democracy of Oranges: New Eco-Poetry from China and the United States (University of Hawaii Press, co-edited) and an edition of the collected poems of Mary Ellen Solt (Sinewave Press). His website is https://www.whittier.edu/academics/english/barnstone