Paul Spella / The Atlantic

One day you look up
and all that’s left of leaves
is a twisted trunk, thick at the base,

an obelisk, split at the top
like an ungulate’s hoof, a shaft
riddled with holes, hopeful places

for birds to make their fastidious nests.
And if you look closer, you’ll see a tortoise,
head as big as a howitzer shell

and two legs, trying calmly
to swim out from the leathery bark
of which it’s made.

It wants to know, like an accuser
in a dream, what have you done
with your life, and raising its rough,

amphibious hands, holding them out,
implores you to pull its ancient
body from the tree.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to