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Descartes' Automaton


I am torn between the eyes of this animal and my daughter's desire. What kind of compromise?  Bleach violates my environmental commitments, stings my eyes to tears--that in turn cast about for memories too willing to spill over.

Clorox admits only to being harmful if swallowed, but its reaction with another cleanser starts a magic show.  Smoke glazes our eyes with wonder.  I simply can't stand where the turtle shit, so I clean the tub again--
hoping the creature cannot share my misery at its fate.

Its legs, like a wind-up toy, kept turning this afternoon, as one child after another grabbed it up, up, up and away from their own bodies to better devour the rotatory trophy.


Its eyes are orange without anger.  Its feet are spotted like Dino's back, a palatable placebo, Flintstone-flavored. 

My daughter and her friend write down the rescue of this tertell, Sally.
(“Sally” is an ever-ready name for pets, dolls, & unmet friends.)
My daughter draws its picture on white, lined paper. Four feet flatly fitted against a flattened shell.  Tail curving slightly. 

She believes this tertell replaces last year's lost pet. That one, seized from the roadway, went unnamed--a large, algae-covered turtle that didn't eat the whole time we held it captive--one that fled, eschewing a pear, climbing from a banana box, falling from a second story balcony, straight back to the canal.


Last night at campfire we looked at a swiss-cheese moon.
Two men teased the children, "Is that "K" up there red or blue?"
Neither girl makes groceries, but both are too savvy for such silliness.
They have their own craft.


This turtle does replace the last.
Until it’s gone, it supplants all loss.
Her father, my mother, her great-grandfather's sight, my job.

Real magic lies in its savior's fingers. Those digits snatched this turtle from cats' claws, moving it from dead-certain play into pudgy-wistful-palms.
Those fingers also grasped my hand last night to move the telescope--in a search for better vision--into a blurrywhiteandsoftness where we needn't label anything at all.

By Wystan Rail

Wystan Rail is a free-lance editor and writer living in a Caddo Lake cypress swamp near Uncertain, Texas.  She is delighted to be somewhat settled after several post-Katrina moves.