Lucille Lang Day, What the Tortoises Know


What the Tortoises Know
            Galápagos Islands
by Lucille Lang Day

On Genovesa, as my husband lay
on the beach of Darwin Bay,
a sea lion came to sniff his toes
and a red-footed booby, sitting
with her chick in a mangrove
nearby, let me get kissing-close.

On North Seymour, the frigate birds
weren’t fazed by me, and a young
blue-footed booby was intrigued
by my walking stick. On Española,
the sand was so thick with iguanas,
it was hard not to step on them.

The guide explained that the animals
here don’t fear us, hawks and short-
eared owls being the only predators
evolution has bred them to know.
They first saw humans with guns
and bows just five hundred years ago.

But giant tortoises, who live to be one
hundred fifty years old, have seen
how we kill to make boxes and combs,
so heads and legs withdraw into shells
at the sound of a loud voice and
they grow still as clean-picked bones.

From Birds of San Pancho and Other Poems of Place (Blue Light Press, 2020), by Lucille Lang Day. First published in Canary: A Literary Journal of the Environmental Crisis, Spring 2019.

PHOTO: Tortoise, Galápagos Islands. Photo by Jose Aragones on Unsplash

NOTE: The Galápagos Islands, part of the Republic of Ecuador, are an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed on either side of the equator in the Pacific Ocean surrounding the centre of the Western Hemisphere. Located 563 miles west of continental Ecuador, the islands are known for their large number of endemic species that were studied by Charles Darwin during the second voyage of HMS Beagle. His observations and collections contributed to the inception of Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of natural selection.


NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I visited the Galápagos Islands in January 2017. I’d wanted to go there for about 20 years! The wildlife was amazing, and almost all of the animals allowed humans to get very close to them. Visitors are told to stay at least six feet away from the animals, but this can be difficult because the animals themselves try to get closer.

PHOTO: Red-footed booby, Galápagos Islands. Photo by Pen Ash, used by permission. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lucille Lang Day is the author of seven full-length poetry collections and four chapbooks. Her most recent collection is Birds of San Pancho and Other Poems of Place (Blue Light Press, November 2020). She has also coedited two anthologies, Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California and Red Indian Road West: Native American Poetry from California, and has published two children’s books and a memoir, Married at Fourteen: A True Story. Her many honors include the Blue Light Poetry Prize, two PEN Oakland/ Josephine Miles Literary Awards, the Joseph Henry Jackson Award, and 10 Pushcart Prize nominations. She is the founder and publisher of Scarlet Tanager Books. Visit her at

PHOTO: The author and frigate birds on North Seymour, Galápagos Islands, January 2017.

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