Tributaries: “The Snapping Turtle”

By Karen J. Weyant

The road near Benson Pond is always littered with roadkill. Twisted deer legs lie tangled in weeds, dead raccoons are knotted in cattails, and mounds of porcupine quills puncture the air. There’s matted fur and hovering flies. Sometimes, there is blood. Later, there will be maggots.

Yesterday, on my way to work, I saw a snapping turtle peering out from a patch of overgrown brush, getting ready to cross the road. Turtles are vulnerable here. Unlike the famous fable where the tortoise quietly triumphs against its hare opponent, turtles rarely win when matched against trucks that round this sharp curve.

I imagined on the way back I would see the turtle dead, shell flattened, neck and head and tail bulging.

Yet, hours later, when I took this same road home, I saw nothing. I imagined that the turtle turned around and slid back into the pond. I imagined there was a long break in backroad traffic so that the turtle made it across to the other side. I even imagined that it was still there, somewhere, safe in the weeds resting and hidden from my view, but with no urge to crawl out onto the road.

As a child, I had received mixed messages about the power of imagination. “Use your imagination,” my mother always told me when I complained during those long hot hours in August when, impatient for school to start, I had grown bored of summer.

Yet, she was quick to complain that my imagination would get me into trouble. “There’s no wolverine in your father’s garden,” she would say, clearly exasperated with my description of a fat groundhog wandering through our backyard. “There’s no alligator in the tub,” she would sigh when I refused to take a bath because I was sure that a giant reptile rested near just inside the drain.

Afterwards, I heard her tell my brothers, “No more scary movies.” She was sure that they (both my brothers and the movies) were the culprits of my tall tales and stories.

I still have my imagination.

That day, when I drove around Benson Pond, I could imagine happily-ever-after scenarios for that turtle because there was no evidence of another, more tragic, outcome.

So I imagined that some local kids, fishing poles and pails in hand, taunted the turtle with a stick so that it snapped its beak tight around the wood — tight enough, so that the children could drag it back to some sort of safety. The turtle then slid deep into the bottom of the pond and slipped into the mud, its body covered, except for its neck that occasionally stretched to the surface for a breath of cool air.

Karen J. Weyant’s poetry and prose has been published in The Briar Cliff Review, Chautauqua, Cold Mountain Review, Copper Nickel, Poetry East, Punctuate,Spillway, Storm Cellar, River Styx, Waccamaw, and Whiskey Island. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Stealing Dust (Finishing Line Press, 2009) and Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt (Winner of Main Street Rag’s 2011 Chapbook Contest). She teaches at Jamestown Community College in Jamestown, New York. When she is not teaching, she explores the rural Rust Belt of northern Pennsylvania and western New York.