Jeff Worley: “On Finding a Turtle Shell in Daniel Boone National Forest”


The column below is reprinted by permission from American Life in Poetry, a project of the Poetry Foundation. You can register on their website to receive these columns by email every week.

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American Life in Poetry: Column 256

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006

A poem is an experience like any other, and we can learn as much or more about, say, an apple from a poem about an apple as from the apple itself. Since I was a boy, I’ve been picking up things, but I’ve never found a turtle shell until I found one in this poem by Jeff Worley, who lives in Kentucky.

On Finding a Turtle Shell in Daniel Boone National Forest

This one got tired
of lugging his fortress
wherever he went,
was done with duck and cover
at every explosion
through rustling leaves
of fox and dog and skunk.
Said au revoir to the ritual
of pulling himself together…

I imagine him waiting
for the cover of darkness
to let down his hinged drawbridge.
He wanted, after so many
protracted years of caution,
to dance naked and nimble
as a flame under the moon—
even if dancing just once
was all that the teeth
of the forest would allow.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2008 by Jeff Worley, whose most recent book of poems is Best to Keep Moving, Larkspur Press, 2009, which includes this poem. Reprinted from Poetry East, Nos. 62 & 63, Fall, 2008, by permission of Jeff Worley and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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