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The Revolt of the Turtles

On gray forgetful mornings like this
sea turtles would gather in the shallow waters
of the Gulf to discuss issues of self-presentation
and related concerns like, If there were a God
would he have a hard shell and a retractable head,
and whether speed on land
was of any importance to a good swimmer.

They knew that tourists needed to placate
their children with catchy stories, and amuse
themselves with various cruelties
such as turning turtles over on their backs
and watching their legs wriggle.
So the turtles formed a committee to address

How to Live Among People Who Among
Other Atrocities Want to Turn You into Soup.

The committee was also charged with wondering
if God would mind a retelling of their lives,
one in which sea turtles 
were responsible for all things
right-minded and progressive, and men
and women for poisoning the water.

The oldest sea turtle among them knew
that whoever was in control of the stories
controlled all the shoulds and should-nots.
But he wasn’t interested in punishment,
only ways in which power could bring about
fairness and decency. And when he finished speaking 
in the now-memorable and ever-deepening

waters of the Gulf, all the sea turtles
began to chant, Only fairness, only decency.

—Stephen Dunn

from WHEREAS: POEMS by Stephen Dunn.

Copyright © 2016 Stephen Dunn.

Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Poetry 180

About the Poet

Stephen Dunn (1939- ) is a Pulitzer Prize winning poet. He is the author of nearly 20 poetry collections, including Whereas (W. W. Norton, 2016).

Learn more about Stephen Dunn at The Poetry Foundation.