Iowa Writes

God's Rite on Palm Island

At the dock, a small crowd collects under an orange evening. We all want to see the big sea turtle that has just arrived. A motorboat moans under its 80-odd pounds, water teases at the rim. Still and silent, somewhere inside the cavernous carapace is a final breath. The drenched Bwgcolman hunter blasts us a craggy smile. Many will enjoy his catch tonight. This is his fortune, his custom.

But you, regal flatback—before today you soared beneath the ocean, your battered scute-hulled spirit marks the decades. We only know the mysteries books reveal—that you've dined on sea grass and jellyfish, that you were once revered, and are now endangered. That your wing-beats furrowed many a sandy nest into the planet, where little turtles might warm and grow. But what are your stories, old bird? Tell us before you leave us. Were there narrow escapes from the shark's maw and the long line, flashes of clandestine coitus, afternoons of repose in the sand and sun at earth's edge? Where are the waters warmest? The coral most lush? Had you known humans before today?

No sign of life is left now. Your expiration is silent and solitary, your return, impossible. The hunter, animated, regales his battle to a worshipful crowd. The children grin, rapt in their ardor; men smoke and nod and point. This is an aboriginal rite, I recognize, yet something inside me carves away, raw from the bone. Because in those last moments of silent calm, before the Bwgcolman leapt into the brine, before his weapon pierced your tender center and he pulled you, muscles bulging, into his humble boat, you were a god of the deep.

Somewhere on the island, water sings to the bottom of a stockpot. A fire spits into life, awaiting meat to be carved and cooked, pieces of a god ladled into hungry mouths. Waste not the magnificent testudine. Its flesh to be consumed entire, its spirit painted over to Dreaming with a thousand tiny, sunset-colored dots.

About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

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Nancy Wyland is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa's MFA in Nonfiction Writing Program. She is an emerging writer who has published nonfiction essays in campus publications and a number of articles and essays in Iowa-based newspapers.

This page was first displayed
on December 16, 2011

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