Ira Hatfield


A rusted hacksaw cut through the pond scum
leather of a turtle’s neck. Dad had it jammed
in a vice on the workbench. He’d never dealt

with a snapper this way before. Brad always
just shot them and left them to sink back into
the dark mud. But Dad thought that was wrong

so he stood there with channel locks, holding
still the head of that rock and claw monster.
The one that that didn’t take well to dying.

And when he’d cut through, Dad laid the head
aside. He told me to steer clear of the beak.
Said it could still bite through my fingers.

He hung it by a back claw with cotton rope,
hoping to drain the blood and fight from its
writhing and headless body. He hoped gravity

might coax whatever stubborn soul snapping
turtles keep. But it was getting late so he took
it down and then I was holding that struggling

corpse still. Dad with a hammer and screwdriver
as that neck, frayed and twisting like a dish rag
on a windswept clothesline, grasped for my fingers

in vain. Its hungry red throat brushed blood across
my knuckles every so often as we tried to crack
through the shell. Claws searched, blind, for wrists

and forearms, scratched me once or twice as it tread
deeper into death, even if it didn’t know yet. Dad
finally managed to jam a flathead into the crevice

between the wrinkled hide and yellow undershell.
That skin, rough and flabby, stretching to split
in the dusklight. With a crunch he separated the shell

and I was dizzy when he started to peel it back
like fingernails. I crawled away. He laughed and sat
by me while I retched into the dirt. He told me about

the first animal he’d seen inside out. He put his hand
on the back of my neck and told me it would get easier.
As if that shell could soften and whatever blood was left

could dry to nothing in the summer heat. As if that turtle
would understand I couldn’t handle taking it to pieces
still moving. As if it could have laid its hungry neck

down to sleep for me as I grew accustomed to watching
the disassembly of life, as I learned about the slippery
secrets it hid underneath its shell.

Ira Hatfield

is a native of southern Indiana, where he received his BA in creative writing at the University of Southern Indiana. He is currently finishing his MFA at the University of Southern Illinois in Carbondale. His poetry has appeared in the Apeiron Review.