The Turtle Shrine Near Chittagong

By Naomi Shihab Nye b. 1952
Humps of shell emerge from dark water.
Believers toss hunks of bread,   
hoping the fat reptilian heads   
will loom forth from the murk   
and eat. Meaning: you have been   

I stood, breathing the stench of mud   
and rotten dough, and could not feel   
encouraged. Climbed the pilgrim hill   
where prayers in tissue radiant tubes   
were looped to a tree. Caught in
their light, a hope washed over me   
small as the hope of stumbling feet   
but did not hold long enough
to get me down.

Rickshas crowded the field,
announced by tinny bells.
The friend beside me, whose bread   
floated and bobbed,
grew grim. They’re full, I told him.   
But they always eat mine.

That night I told the man I love most   
he came from hell. It was also
his birthday. We gulped lobster   
over a white tablecloth in a country
where waves erase whole villages, annually,   
and don’t even make our front page.   
Waiters forded the lulling currents   
of heat. Later, my mosquito net   
had holes.

All night, I was pitching something,   
crumbs or crusts, into that bottomless pool   
where the spaces between our worlds take root.   
He would forgive me tomorrow.   
But I wanted a mouth to rise up   
from the dark, a hand,
any declarable body part, to swallow   
or say, This is water, that is land.

Naomi Shihab Nye, “The Turtle Shrine near Chittagong” from Fuel. Copyright © 1998 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used by the permission of BOA Editions Ltd.,

Source: Fuel (BOA Editions Ltd., 1998)

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Poet Naomi Shihab Nye b. 1952

Subjects Religion, Activities, Travels & Journeys, Faith & Doubt, Relationships, Men & Women

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 Naomi Shihab Nye


Naomi Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1952. Her father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother an American of German and Swiss descent, and Nye spent her adolescence in both Jerusalem and San Antonio, Texas. Her experience of both cultural difference and different cultures has influenced much of her work. Known for poetry that lends a fresh perspective to ordinary events, people, and objects, Nye has said that, . . .

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SUBJECT Religion, Activities, Travels & Journeys, Faith & Doubt, Relationships, Men & Women

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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