The Turtle Shrine Near Chittagong

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
heard.

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., www.boaeditions.org.
Source: Fuel (BOA Editions Ltd., 1998)
More Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye