Small for his age, hunger-hollowed, smudge-eyed,
whittled thin as a withe of oak, splint of ash,
the boy slips through the wall, through the wedge
of light where log warps away from log,
and runs through fields, down a wooded slope,
to the seeps whose place his mother told,
made him repeat, told again until words hung
as a map between them, a map she touched
with her hand, saying near this tree, by that stone.
Each day, he creeps back to the wall
and passes to her bear lettuce, pokeweed, cresses,
sorrels, mulberries, cattail roots,
hen-of-the-woods, tall so-cha-ni with yellow flowers,
food for your sick father, she tells him,
your wasting brothers. Always he scurries, darts,
stays low, still the soldiers catch him,
drag him into the stockade, tear off his shirt,
bind his hands and lash his back.
His mother washes his wounds and tells him
snakegrass for bleeding, and do not cry,
jimsonweed for bruises. And then she says,
when wolves seized the turtle,
the turtle used his wits, said he would sink fast
and drown if they tossed him into the river.
When they threw him, his shell struck a rock
and cracked. The turtle sank to the bottom.
His cracks would mend, become the orange dots
and lines that pattern his shell.
He fixed his eyes on the surface,
swam toward the least glimmer of light.
William Woolfitt is the author of two books of poetry, Beauty Strip (Texas Review Press, 2014) and Charles of the Desert (Paraclete Press, forthcoming). He has received a Howard Nemerov Scholarship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His poems and stories have appeared in Shenandoah, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Threepenny Review, Notre Dame Review, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere. He teaches creative writing and literature at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee.