The Dead Turtle series of poems was written by Lowell Francis, as a result of psychic trauma suffered while enrolled in the graduate program of the Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University. It is unknown whether further members of the series have been produced. This collection is presented by his sister, who think they're the funniest poems any member of the family has ever produced.
- On the Lost Spark of Low Heeled Boys, or Once Upon a Time Some People Had a Dream
- Fire in the Hairy Man's Belly, or The Withered Scrotum of Peter Pan
- Which Possesses a Still More Formidable Power of Detonation Than the Black Powder and Will Scarce Bear Touching
- A Letter Written in This Ink Can Only Be Read in a Dark Room, When the Writing Will Have the Appearance of Fire
- This Isn't Fairyland -- This is Hell!
- I Have Seen Death -- And I Scared
- We Must Remember to Leave Our Humanity and Terrestrialism at the Threshold
- Touch the Puppethead
- You Can Laugh at This Sentimental Story, But in Time You'll Have to Make Amends
- Words on Music
ON THE LOST SPARK OF LOW HEELED BOYS, OR ONCE UPON A TIME SOME PEOPLE HAD A DREAM
The dead tortoise runs into the youth on the street. A lute player perched on the curb, his lyre in the gutter. The dead turtle admires his alabaster skin and perfect spun hair. Orpheus' face, however, is a mess; his eyes are red-rimmed from lack of sleep and his unfiltered Camel is held to the edge of his mouth by spit. "I'm screwed," he whispers from a smoke-wracked throat. The dead tortoise starts to run through his pockets for spare change. "All that I've got is this lousy guitar," Orpheus says, kicking the base of his beshelled instrument. The turtle cringes for a moment and then brings the blackjack down hard on the back of the singer's head. When the tortoise drags the body to the graveyard he spots a gang of poets hovering nonchalantly by the mausoleum. The turtle knows they're poets because of their sniggering comments about his enjambment. He tosses Orpheus into a bottomed abyss and kicks a little dirt after. "It's worth a try," he thinks.
FIRE IN THE HAIRY MAN'S BELLY, OR THE WITHERED SCROTUM OF PETER PAN
The dead tortoise goes to the shop of the great Earth Mother. It's a nice little place, warm and cozy, containing the entire universe, or so the sign says. The turtle is still choosing his vegetables when he hears the proprietor return. The bulk of the owner encompasses everything and floods over the Lazy-Boy behind the counter. The tortoise, embarassed by his staring, carries his groceries towards the check-out. The door blows inwards and bottles of elemental matter spill off the shelf, shattering into lumps of smoking mud. "There's a fire down below for me as well," the trundling bearded elder yells. The great earth mom gestures him towards a display filled with hair restoratives,swimsuit calenders and books on impotency. The tortoise, now embarassed by the bloated primals, leaves without buying anything.
WHICH POSSESSES A STILL MORE FORMIDABLE POWER OF DETONATION THAN THE BLACK POWEDER AND WILL SCARCE BEAR TOUCHING
The dead tortoise makes the mistake of falling in love with a poet and finds himself out of his depth. She leaves notes lying around, but he finds out that they're written in code. Unable to read them, the turtle remembers that he sold off eighty-seven percent of his soul to buy new strings for his yo-yo; for aesthetic appreciation he now has to contract out. Unfortunately, after consulting with a variety of artistic translators, he discovers that the notes weren't written by his Beatrice but by something else. Unintentionally, the turtle allows them to put together a police composite of the pseudo-encoder and he is unable to identify the picture. Eventually, the tortoise has to sell his yo-yo and strings to pay off the cultural debt-collectors. The turtle contemplates employment in order to take at least some of his immortal soul out of hock.
A LETTER WRITTEN IN THIS INK CAN ONLY BE READ IN A DARK ROOM, WHEN THE WRITING WILL HAVE THE APPEARANCE OF FIRE
The dead tortoise first meets the hare at the cocktail party and he knows it's not going to be pleasant. The turtle has had too much to drink and ends up muttering to himself every time the rabbit pulls another theorist out of his pocket. By this time, the floor is littered with french post-structuralists, masters of the sublime, and the odd Hegelian. When the level of discourse reaches their knees, people begin to head for the door, moving low and quickly, as though avoiding gunfire. The moment the turtle has been dreading occurs when the hare draws a loaded psychoanalyst on a poet. Instantly, critics are flying, cracking giant holes in people and floor-boards alike. The turtle hides and scuttles his way slowly to the window where he manages to jump out. His shell is only slightly out of tune when he gets up off the ground, and he can't hear the hare very well from down here.
THIS ISN'T FAIRYLAND -- THIS IS HELL!
The dead tortoise, knowing that sooner or later he has to meet his maker, schedules an early morning appointment with God. Not too close to lunch so God won't be hungry. God is scribbling notes on a legal pad when the turtle comes in. "What's this about you stealing the wings of all the animals?" God says, shaking the proverbial hand of God at him. "That's my uncle from Nigeria," the tortoise manages when his head pops back out of his shell. God looks suspicious. "You're not a Trickster?" The turtle shakes his head no. "Then what are you exactly?" Clearing his throat, the turtle explains that he's a mytheo-poetic figure and that, yes, he has his collective unconscious certification to prove it. God hands him back his card and asks what the turtle wants. "The usual questions..." the dead turtle begins. He stops as God rummages through a drawer and then passes him a pamphlet. "There's the ten most asked questions and space for your answers. Fill it out the way you want and I'll take it under advisement." And with that, God ends the interview. As he leaves, the turtle bumps into the coyote in the waiting area. When he gets home, his wallet is missing.
I HAVE SEEN DEATH -- AND I SCARED
The dead tortoise meets the wombat in the underworld and mistakes him for a clerk. The wombat is offended. "I'm just browsing too," he says in that voice that never fails to rattle the turtle's shell. The two decide to pool the blood in their thermoses and proceed downwards. They are amused by the air jets blowing up the dresses of the adulterers and watch them fly around for a while. The wombat finds the escalator off-ramp leading to the circle that they want. Here, parents are condemned to read everything their children ever wrote about them. The first rider of the literary apocalypse leads them around the showroom. The turtle is awkward, unsure of what he wants, but the wombat knows his specs. In the end the wombat settles on an alcholic immigrant couple. The tortoise is torn between a dad who shows him aBout hunting and a step-father with cancer. He buys neither, picking up instead a mother with unfulfilled dreams and a musician sister. The fathers seem a little threatening and their absence signifies nothing for the turtle. The wombat and the dead turtle ice-skate to the surface, the wombat sniggering all the way about the tortoise's lack of dysfunctions.
WE MUST REMEMBER TO LEAVE OUR HUMANITY AND TERRESTRIALISM AT THE THRESHOLD
The dead tortoise visits the barber shop of the uncanny. It is a strange place, bigger on the inside than out, or so it seems to the turtle. Joe, the Nameless barber, approaches him as he leafs through back issues of the Fortean Tomes. "Would you like a hair cut, OR all of them cut?" the barber whispers oddly, his teeth looking like teeth. "A trim and a wax polish," says the turtle, hopping into a chair that seems somehow . . . familiar. "I opened my fridge this morning, and do you know what I found?" the barber asks. "Yeah, yeah . . . a human hand," the turtle replies, irritated by the abject deja vu comment. There is a loud silent pause which takes no time. "Fantastic," says the dead turtle, looking in the mirror. "Umheimlich," the Nameless barber corrects. When he leaves, the turtle takes an unspeakable mint which is not a mint from the tray, but does not eat it.
TOUCH THE PUPPETHEAD
The dead tortoise is missing from the poem. The committee of influences begins to shuffle about the lines, moving from end stop to end stop. They're starting to review their scripts, some even marking in the margins with red pencil. The author, who happens to be the turtle's agent, is becoming more nervous. Occasionally, its twitching dislodges the inky life-line and the writer flickers momentarily. Looking at a watch in the middle of a poem is useless. One needs an anchor, a contemporary reference to set the clock by, such as the fact that it's thirty-three hours to the new episode of Star Trek. Now the author realizes just how late the dead tortoise is. If the turtle doesn't show up soon, it'll have to transfer him to a poem as yet unwritten. The meta Muses are restless with the text, and are calculating the bus ride to the Mall if they get out early. The writer goes over to the sponsor and tries to construct an argument about absence denoting presence, but she's not buying any of it. The stage crew is beginning to close up when the dead turtle arrives. "Get in there!" the author shouts, its countenance flushed. The turtle carefully crawls into the coffin.
YOU CAN LAUGH AT THIS SENTIMENTAL STORY, BUT IN TIME YOU'LL HAVE TO MAKE AMENDS
The dead tortoise receives a requiem from a secret admirer. In glowing terms,it praises him and describes the circumstances of his death. The turtle by his mailbox blinks against the white light and wonders what day it is. The next morning another eulogy arrives, brief, satisfactory, and without a return address. The turtle, fearing a mail scam, decides to go to the post office to file a complaint. The post-master spots him and promises to pass along the Turtle's words tothe proper channels. In the morning the tortoise's front lawn is covered with envelopes of all forms and sizes. Most of them aren;t even really for the turtle, but seem to have him confused with someone else. One forgives him for his alcoholic binges, another regrets the passing of his voice, others ramble about now that he's gone. The turtle is filled with wrath. He calls up the dead lead letter office and discovers that he has been assigned the zip code for Catharsis. The tortoise ends up moving out and leaving a stuffed dummy of himself in the window. Each evening, he drops by to relight the pyre at his old home.
WORDS ON MUSIC
The dead tortoise waits dove-like on the wings. Before he begins it should be clarified that "turtle" and "tortoise" are used interchangeably, especially if dead. However, terrapene terrapene is thought to be closest to the species mentioned in the texts. The acoustics are to be taken in the most figurative sense as one can imagine that withdrawing into a shell has the effect of narrowing the dead turtle's perceptual range. The composer referred to is Dmitri Shostakovich, who desposed composers conducting their own work. Any pronouns used herein are, of course, not meant to mean exactly who they say they are, they being the most offensive of words. As for the actor in the poem, there is only one and that is you. The dead tortoise, naked without shell, stands mouth agape and empty.