Robert Shanahan – The Shaping Of A Turtle Shell

Shanahan LEP&W Oct 2020

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Robert (Roibeard) Shanahan. I am a poet playwright and a painter. A storyteller. For me all there really is…Compassion and Expression. I describe myself as a…‘Grand Lector of Apocalyptic Utterances’. I live in Tasmania. I am from the Irish diaspora. My family from Cork. My prose was published in Australia. Ireland in Outburst magazine. India in Setu poetry magazine. I was awarded high commendation. In the W.B.Yeats poetry prize with ‘Violence at the Egg’. It was read out in the National Parliament of Australia.

The Shaping of a Turtle Shell

A time stained journal treasured by a poet
Given to him when he was young
By a near to moribund one
A close neighbour a wondrous word spiller

An endless ongoing collection of letters
Handed down just before pencils final fall
At the end of a Poets writings

Handed on
To the next explorer
On and on
All his and their creative existence added to ….

‘The Shaping of a Turtle Shell’

Fatefully it
Was lost to the sea
He while sailing to find his Muse
Just beyond every horizon
Each horizon again and again
He searched relentlessly
Relying on the hook and rain
Never seeking safe harbour in any storm

On the bleakest of nights
The Moon hidden behind a hundred pitch black clouds
High breaking waves came when he was higher
His boat rolled over submerged
Collapsing dirty once white sails his final surface view
The boom cracking just now above his cranium
He screams “May I be a Star sliding down a Crescent Moon’’

He dragged down the mad strength of the sea
Over he went one hand holding the sea anchor
He sinking draped in the anchors chains
The other hand holds high above his head
The flapping journal

Years have passed
When some of the journal finally comes to land

Grand swells of poetics
Crashing wildly in the breaker waves to shore
Letters stretching out distorting on the rocks
Some break apart and start a new alphabet

Faded words on inked stained sand
Tided away with most implied meanings
The seabirds taking the last smudges literally
Yet something of it still remains for us

Just off the pounded rocks
A young girl stands in an upturned lute turtle shell
Motionless her vessel on the turbulently moving waves
Her salted hands cusping in the shape of a Turtle Shell

With a net made from seagrass
She turns into her vessel
Backwashed damaged letters drifting from the shore
Which she will arrange and later sing

She sings to the Turtles in the sea
She sings to the terrestrial Tortoises
Voicing now to the deep seas
In whispering song

‘’You in your wonderment
over two million years’
‘’Remembering the extinct species’’

Singing this she strokes the firm rubbery skin of her vessel
She sings strong

‘’To your motley horny plated carapaces ‘’

Still stroking her Luth’s shell
Pauses then continues

‘’Open thou beaks and with flapping flippers
Extend your necks and rise from any depths’’

She then steps upon the sea
Steps on dense slim trails of sodium chloride
These salt trails created by the bows
The bows of every passing boat since time began
And every oar that went through the waters surface
Collected salt rails permanently just above the seas
The young girl traverses these salted risings
All around the oceans

Our girl now dives from the trails into the sea
Down and down
Touch of passing fish and seal
Into deep darkness yet she has a sight
All known by feel or sight to her
Further to the depths she sinks
Into the grand carpets of kelp
And in bubbly voice is heard to sing

‘’To the surface‘’
‘’All to the surface‘’

The sea now full of bobbling Turtles
Above her head
She sees a grand sky of flippers
In the distant surface light
And is about to join them

As she begins to sing
She sees the Poet

He had sunk down a fathom at a time
At the moment he remembered
A prose that he wrote
A fathom more down he went
For Seven miles under he has travelled

He now frozen
His face is covered by colorless coral
Anchor chains rusted stiff
He in his deep cage holding him up

Between a deep sea Black Smoker venting black minerals
And a White Smoker venting alkaline high of white
He in the middle of that in greyness
Moving with the tides of the Abyssal Plains
In the deepest hole on Earth

His swirling head
Algae mouthed
He will not answer her song

Snailfish take small bites from him
Then regurgitate him back
Into the same form
This an endless cycle

In tidal dangling
His hands in happenstance darkness clap
And as he does
His hands detach
Transformed to endless paper pages
Full of deep underwater broodiness

They float eddying up
Towards the young girl
She now holds the beginnings of them in her hands
And to her shock they are blank

She looks towards the poet seeing
The snailfish are all over him
But this time they regurgitate him
Into the surrounding water
This continues till nothing remains

Throwing her head back
She unleashes a wild whistle
It reverberates sonically
Upwards to the above Turtles
Who drop down from the surface
Holding onto each other
They create a grand staircase
Going down the seven miles

She stands on the first Turtle
Looks again at the blank pages
And in amazement words appear on the pages

She to travel up one Turtle at a time
She begins to sing
The inner song that only she can hear
She absorbs it
She in Metamorphosis
A birth of a Muse


This child wears an outfit
A pale green smock
She stands sweet in immaculate rays of light
The hue of her garment singing melodies to the air
Innocence floats freely from her inner self
In natural abundance

We readers stand far behind her
Lifetimes and realities away
And what are we for that! ?

For this angelic one can live somewhere in every living thought
You don’t ‘mind!’

An eye opens as wide as a sharks mouth
Covers the light on her bare shoulder
All a starring
That eye raving silence

An eye that is the head
Of a wooden stick figure
Wearing the same outfit she wears
Standing so close it entires the child’s body
Whispering in her ear
In rasping abraded tones
‘’You you are Mortal’’

It’s words only heard as the rustling leaves of trees
The child does not notice does not respond

It’s stick arms are as stiff wings
Each poking out from the child’s shoulders

From the child’s waist
Just off her legs
Wooden sticks touch
Their shared astragalus covered soil

The child and the stick figure play
One’s two’s three’s to five
The stick figure first to play
A throwing up of a knucklebone to the sky

An original sky
A reflected image is seen
Palamedes chasing a sheep
He catches it kills it
Skins it’s feet breaks the knuckles free
For play now
Fortune telling later at the sky’s edges

The stick figures jack enters this image
Like a stone thrown in a pool rippling
Spiraling out

The image goes even further back
Zeus melting some needing day
Frees Ganymede glorious mortal of Troy
Giving Eros as a playmate
Olive Dibs are played

The stick figure’s bone does not return
It now plays in a universe of dice

Then the child
Who does not throw her jack up in the air
Rather with unnatural strength
She flattens the knucklebone
To a arced shaped tear

Scraping in soil
Granular atoms
Organic matters gases
Filling her pockets to overfill
With her big toe she
Makes spirals
In the soil

Round and round
All a whorl
Her toe
Coils deep to deeper
Through the soil

The child’s
A corkscrew
Enters the soil

Down amongst the muffled sounds
To play Jacks forever
With the spirits that were left behind
Or rejected life to exist just below the ground
To be sweetly moved by eternal vibrations

The stick figure splinted
By the circumvolution
That very friction creates combustion
Starts with a spark a small fire
Smoke from its garment smouldering
That great eye flutters ashes
There is no sound
Except for the crackling

Left Knucklebones
Dust in that fire

© Robert Shanahan