Joshua Dugat: Poetry: March 2022


Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born and raised in Austin, Texas, attended college in Virginia and have lived and worked in New Orleans and Tuscaloosa for the 12 years since. My two-year-old son enjoys making angel biscuits with his great-grandmother, and I do, too.


Black Warrior River

It is a mammoth 
lily pad. A trash can
lid. A great armored bubble
bobbing in the river, unable
to birth itself
from the surface. No, 
it is a turtle—
what the first reflexive thought
thought, before logic
guffawed, the artifact found 
clownishly immense for an animal 
not yet extinct. Did you forget to die 
with the other dinosaurs? She will answer. 

Closer, she is spined 
with ancient knuckles. I waive another 
angler over. I have never 
seen so big a turtle 
in the wild, if the wild is where
we are, here, between the dam
and pier. He has not either. She rocks with flushes
yawning from the weir, her head down 
like a snorkeler intent upon a star 
lodged within a reef. A piece of garbage 
sticks behind her, bagged and brightly
veined. She doesn’t seem to mind,
even though the bag is one of her
soft organs and she is not held by a star, 
but by a line
fixed deeper than we see. I have hung
up here too. Cut my lines and left them,
unthinking of their hazard. 

I did not forget 
to die
, her body tells us. 

The moving water does her swimming
for her. We lay on our stomachs, 
reach with sticks and catch her 
tether, tug her. Now we smell her,
yellow, sour, easing toward us
like a beehive best left sleeping. 
She wears claws like jewelry.
She was a warrior-priestess 
or a queen.
He holds her by the ankles and I try
to lift her head. Taut, I touch 
my knife beneath her chin—
the filament relents. He hefts her 
greening gallons from the water,
falling to the pier. She rests. 
Is she smaller, now, and hideous, 
or just as grand, but sadder?
She could not snap the line 
with all her razors. That flinted beak 
cracked open, edges wasted
pleading with the shallows for a breath. 
How many hours did she hold it?
Hind parts parched, shell hot 
as an island, cool at night. 
Her fossil eyes
lost in the wet
where there was a worm
or shiner just like any other, 
and now nothing 
but strange pain inside, and
wonder. In the drug of drowning
could you see yourself as we do,
Tangled Angel? Stepping stone 
from here to after,
that we may use your back 
to get where we are going
while keeping 
our feet dry.