The Turtle Shrine Near Chittagong

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Humps of shell emerge from dark water.
Believers toss hunks of bread, 
hoping the fat reptilian heads 
will loom forth from the murk 
and eat. Meaning: you have been 

I stood, breathing the stench of mud 
and rotten dough, and could not feel 
encouraged. Climbed the pilgrim hill 
where prayers in tissue radiant tubes 
were looped to a tree. Caught in
their light, a hope washed over me 
small as the hope of stumbling feet 
but did not hold long enough
to get me down.

Rickshas crowded the field,
announced by tinny bells.
The friend beside me, whose bread 
floated and bobbed,
grew grim. They’re full, I told him. 
But they always eat mine.

That night I told the man I love most 
he came from hell. It was also
his birthday. We gulped lobster 
over a white tablecloth in a country
where waves erase whole villages, annually, 
and don’t even make our front page. 
Waiters forded the lulling currents 
of heat. Later, my mosquito net 
had holes.

All night, I was pitching something, 
crumbs or crusts, into that bottomless pool 
where the spaces between our worlds take root. 
He would forgive me tomorrow. 
But I wanted a mouth to rise up 
from the dark, a hand,
any declarable body part, to swallow 
or say, This is water, that is land.

© Naomi Shihab Nye