Tortuga and Mariposa

Nobody had asked Tortuga
When they placed the earth on top of his shell.
Will make a man out of you, they said.
Wrenching him from his mother’s breast.
He watched in bewilderment as they balanced Earth’s weight on his delicate shell.
It will be calloused and hard in no time they assured him.
But, but, who will support me, Tortuga asked.
So they placed another turtle under him and then another and then another,
In infinite regress,
A swaying column,
Turtles all the way down.
The milky tears they shed in memory of their Mother’s grieving breasts floated into space,
The great river of sadness for planets to drift in.
Mariposa was drifting too,
And flitting on fleet wings.
Her beauty drawing gasps wherever she went.
Greedy hands grasping at her.
But Mariposa had questions
And no answers.
She made her people uncomfortable
With her questions of life and death
Of vanishing forests,
And their past life as ugly caterpillars,
That ate through the forests.
Shh, her mother shuddered delicately,
We never speak of that.
She directed Mariposa to the next flower,
To the next koolaid of nectar,
That would make her forget
The important questions.
But one day as her family rose
In great numbers to move to the next forest faraway,
Mariposa too flapped her wings,
Causing a hurricane in China,
As she flew in the opposite direction
Seeking her answers.
Circumnavigating the earth
Until she came upon
The swaying column of turtles
All the way down.
She looked at Tortuga
With the earth on his back
He was a strange looking fellow.
Tortuga stared at Mariposa
Through his veil of tears
She seemed like a fractal of light
Who pouted, “Im thirsty”.
The both stared.
Mariposa settled near
Tortuga’s large streaming eyes
And gingerly took a lick
And her eyes widened.
She’d never tasted salt
Of fear and loss and pain.
She settled with a sigh
And drank deeper now
And tasted
Hope and wisdom and generosity.
Tortuga was shattered.
No one had touched him in an age
The lightness of Mariposa’s wings
Cut through his carapace
And pierced his heart
And then he cried
Clear, crystal tears
Of hope and joy and love
Mariposa felt real for the first time.
Her addiction for the sweet disappeared.
They remained glued for an age.
Tortuga hesitantly told her of his lovely mother
And she told him of her home in the forests.
But Mariposa had to leave,
She was a butterfly afterall.
So she left after hovering
For as long as she dared.
But she returned again and again,
Bearing the scent of wildflowers and oranges.
They told each other more stories.
Till they were able to laugh.
Till she had to leave.
It’s one way to live.

©Hema Gopinathan Sah

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