Friday, October 06, 2006

Poems about Pets: The Dead Turtle Question

Jarod Anderson, a young man, avers that my poem about Kenyon was a successful pet poem. What is a successful pet poem? The closer you are to something or someone, the harder it is to write well. As I was not so personally connected to my daughter's turtle or tortoise, as the case may be, I post a poem about its demise below, along with its link to Snakeskin, now a singularly august e-zine for all the years it's gone on, outliving Melic.

My request, for any so disposed, is to tell me whether the last three lines originally published are worth keeping or not. I think they try too hard to impart a meaning, thus am in favor of jettisoning them into the pool where all my "almost" poetry sinks. Do weigh in with your thoughts. I am eminently teachable since my dear wife, Kathleen, became the first human to come close to taming me. My mother tried, but then.... boys will be boys!

The Terrapin Question

We never named him or knew his sex.
He wasn't happy if turtles could be happy.
I purchased an aquarium to protect
him from the cats. His chitinous serape
was not enough, I thought, to keep him safe
in this unnatural habitat. His back
was a mosaic of rounded squares.
His belly plate was yellow, marked with black.
I didn't know if he liked water or land.
I placed him in a shallow bath to see.
Proving he was no amphibian,
he sought the dry end like a refugee.
My daughter left for college.
His care devolved on me.

I tried to furnish him with water and food
but never cared or really understood
his needs, so my care wasn't that good.
When I'd put him on the floor for exercise
he moved so slowly I didn't see him crawl
when suddenly he'd be at the far wall
as if by magic, as if turtles could fly.
They can't. But living things can always die.

When he first disappeared I was disturbed.
I looked in closets, crevices and thought
he'd joined the two iguanas we misplaced.
I looked in every possible hiding place
except beneath the sofa where the space
was much too narrow to admit him, I judged,
when lifting it I saw his carapace!
Relieved, I placed him in his house of glass
and crumbled lettuce for his tiny beak,
put out fresh water, forgot him for a week.

I found him with his legs and head and tail
extended as if posed in a museum.
I picked him up-- there was a sour smell
and no attempt to pull a single limb
into its case. I always wondered
if his kind died outside or inside the shell.
Now I knew. I threw him in the trash
like a spoiled pie, dead of neglect.

[When my last hour comes will I retract
inside myself, all doors and windows closed,
or have the courage to die with limbs exposed?]

Thine in Amphibian Demise,

(Shhh---at two kilobunnies!),

Craig Erick


  1. Anonymous4:41 AM PDT

    It's good - quite moving - but, yes, I would chop the last 3 lines. Not just because they try too hard to import a meaning, but because the poem already has a meaning, and the final three lines try to go further than the poem needs to go.


  2. I agree with anonymous Rob. Besides, I think the power is the subtleness.

    My favorite line "I looked in closets, crevices and thought
    he'd joined the two iguanas we misplaced." It caused a chuckle, and I became invested in the search for the turtle.

    I just popped by b/c I appreciated your comments I read on Twitches blog.

    Thanks for the read. ~GG

  3. I'm glad of the consensus and will drop the lines as I intended to do, but to get poets to agree on anything is like herding cats. I visited your blog and got inside your "skin," GoGo. I tagged you, too, Rob, my confederate in sonnets.

  4. Anonymous10:05 PM PDT

    Not that I'm ever willingly the voice of dissent, what with being a middle child and a Libra (go on, try to make me choose a side, I dare you!), but.....

    I have to say that I like the last three lines alot. The poem is merely about the poor turtle until those last three lines. I like the question that's asked. It makes me think of my father and his death, a death I think he would've chosen for himself. All of his windows and doors as he sunk deeper and deeper into the coma were closed, and save for the nurses who ignored his DNR and tried to resucitate him (which frankly irritates the hell out of me whenever I think about it--I mean, what the hell good is a DNR if people are going to ignore it?) when he finally flatlined, he died alone. He waited, or I like to think he waited, until after we left on that last night. We left the hospital after nine and he died before 11.

    I say keep the last 3 lines. But hey, if you're going for consensus, I guess my vote doesn't count.


  5. I'd have to say I'm anti-last three lines. Although I really like the poem in either of its forms.


    Also, turtles are reptiles not amphibians.

  6. No, Jarod, tortoises are reptiles, not turtles--and I was never quite convinced about this denizen.

    Yes, Laurel, I did what I often advise against--I tried to make a connection with my own death, to universalize the experience of the turtle--as I like to say, poetry consists of universalizing the particular and particularizing the universal--but I think it's better without my scrabbling after meaning. That doesn't mean your comment isn't influential, especially since I'm a middle child and a Libra like you. But we both want to please, yes? Thus by keeping the last tercet out, I can please more people. Tongue in cheekly, end of story. ;-}

  7. And that's always goal. (grin) To please as many people as possible and try not to fret over the one or two unhappy ones lingering at the edges, frowning. (grin)

    Oh, gee. All these years later and I'm still so damned afraid to open my mouth and say anything, to let my position be known. And it's troubling that oftener than not, I really do see merit in both sides which makes it doubly difficult.

    I think without the last tercet, the poem is hipper, more modern. More now. I guess I'm a bit of a sucker for the traditional. I like all the new stuff, all the experimental stuff, but man, am I glad glad glad that my shelves are weighed down with so many dead poets. (sure, there are some live ones too, but I never feel the same comfort when reading them when I do reading oh, say Frost or Plath or Wright or Sexton)

    Never hurts to speak up, I guess. Even when it gets a thumbs down. (grin)


  8. Obviously you got a thumbs up as the poem was published in Snakeskin with the final tercet; as I see it now I would take it out, and the mob agrees; but who's to say your voice isn't more influential than all of them? Certainly I respect you as a poet and as a person. That counts for a lot, even if YOU'RE WRONG ON THIS ONE, LOSER!


    Craig Erick

  9. Craig Erick,

    Play nice or I'll find a dead turtle and throw it at you.


    Why don't you like your name?

    It sounds so sturdy, so solid.

    Craig Erick.

    At what age did you decide to go by CE instead?

    I used to tell my parents all the time how much I loathed my name when I was growing up, and how, when I became and adult, I was going to change it to oh, Greer or Maxine or someting. Funny thing happened though. By the the time I grew up, I realized I actually liked my name because it was rare, off the beaten path. I've only met one Laurel face to face, years ago in Pittsburgh, and one on the phone recently in the corporate landscape. She laughed when I said I felt like the only Laurel in the whole world and said she felt the same way.

    (I love the name Greer though. If I'd had children, I would've named my little girl Greer---and she would've hated me for it) (smile)

  10. Laurel, interesting point. Since the age of 16 I've published under the name of C. E. Chaffin. Why, I don't know. Now approaching 52, I am finally coming to own my name. My post tomorrow will be on that very topic, I think, if I can dot it with a sonnet. It took me this long to grow into my name, which means: Rock King Devil-Fighter.

    Now that's a powerful name and one I likely didn't know how to handle until now. It was all about getting over "Craig" and all the sulphurous egg smells that went with it. See you in e-mail, dahling.

    Craig Erick, the Rock King.

  11. Now CE, this is important!

    All turtles are reptiles. To be an amphibian a creature must have gilled aquatic larvae and air-breathing adults. No turtles meet these criteria. Trust me on this one; I was a half-assed herpetologist even before I was a wannabe poet.

    Jarod “The Lizard King” Anderson

  12. Craig Erick, LKD, J.A,

    Would you like another link? I am becoming a linkage expert

    And…. Stop arguing about who is the loser for I am the greatest loser. You can all stand down from THAT particular podium.


  13. Jarod, I was an English major before medical school so I stand corrected. But I had this wonderful little book as a child entitled Reptiles and Amphibians. For some reason I thought pollywogs qualified.

    And Coral, you are not as big a loser as I. I defy you to your face. My life, at least when I'm depressed, seems of less value than a cereal toy. And who's to say I'm wrong? Thanks for the link and be kind to yourself. I hope your pain is improving.


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