On being the Tortoise in the Race

December 17, 2012

She knew the river was far too beautiful
for her to swim in even before she started the race.
The sun, it seemed, had changed the rain to steam.
It was like a leaf as it prepares to die.
How it turns color so beautifully, how it strains
not only eyes, but lips and liver, taste and smell.
Behind her, Achilles again narrows her lead by half. A well
of reflections appears, as does the tortoise. Her demise
is certain now as she moves through the woods,
as much a river as the river itself, so slow, meandering
in the way all ancient creatures move in that final landscape.
It’s time for her to be a part of the nocturnal peace
promised so long ago, for the tortoise feels fertile now
as she enters the deep water. She feels free.

If only she were a turtle…

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6 Responses to “On being the Tortoise in the Race”

  1. Thomas Davis Says:

    If you can only halve the distance between you and destination, then, as Zeno’s paradox says, you can never arrive. But in this case the tortoise, feeling fertile, arrives in the water, the river
    far too beautiful
    for her to swim in…
    and in the river
    She feels free.
    even though …
    as she moves through the woods,
    as much a river as the river itself, so slow, meandering
    in the way all ancient creatures move in that final landscape.
    she (whomever she may be) is like the river, slow, meandering the way all ancient creatures move in that final landscape.
    I take the final landscape to be the end of life, the river being life that is both land and river, and the she a life force who is in the race of life toward the final landscape which is far too beautiful for her to swim in. The she is the tortoise, but, more specifically, is the life force, the consciousness, the being of the tortoise.
    Unfortunately the paradox is not true, not when the land runs to the river banks. Facing surgery again Wednesday, I find this a powerful contemplation.

  2. Anna Mark Says:

    Glad you liked the Asa Boxer. I like many of his poems. I also enjoyed reading your description above, Achilles and all.

  3. extrasimile Says:

    Anna—the Asa Boxer poem is quite a find. I’ve read the whole poem and it does indeed have a lot in common with mine. Interesting. I’ll have to read more of his poetry. The thing with the turtle/ tortoise is simple: a tortoise is a land creature, the turtle is amphibious. The ‘she’ in the poem is approaching—perhaps I should say asymptotically approaching—a state that is remarkably like Mr. Boxer’s stone—Achilles’ plight as he moves forward in the race towards the tortoise is that before he can go the whole distance to the turtle, he first must go half way, and while he has made this journey, the tortoise has moved forward again. Thus Achilles’ can never catch the tortoise. This one of Zeno’s paradoxes—and is ultimately an argument to support Parmenides’ position that change is impossible.
    Thanks John and Jo Ateya. I think the mystery comes from the ambiguity that results from my use of pronouns. Is the ‘she’ in the poem really the tortoise?

  4. Anna Mark Says:

    I recently heard a Canadian poet, Asa Boxer, real aloud his poem, The Turtle and the Stone. Here are a few lines:

    The turtle is but a step away from stone,
    and he hopes, each day, to slow his pace,
    to approach, within a fraction, a dead halt,

    and thus come so near death as to learn
    the secrets of eternity, and strike the deal
    struck by stone.

    I’m not sure what to think of your tortoise’s desire to be a turtle…since both seem to experience the river and a sense of freedom. I enjoyed the flow of this poem, it feels slippery and wet and kind of transcendent, somehow. I especially like: Her demise
    is certain now as she moves through the woods,
    as much a river as the river itself, so slow, meandering
    in the way all ancient creatures move in that final landscape.

  5. John Stevens Says:

    How strangely beautiful this is, especially your description of her slow movement through the woods, meandering as if a river herself, and that gripping allusion to her nature as one of the world’s ancient creatures. And I love the scene with the rain, the sun, the transformation. Altogether beautiful and mysterious Jim.


  6. I simply love the way words and thoughts fall into a captivating imagery when I read what you pen down..Its inspiring!


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