Published on Academy of American Poets (

She Was Fed Turtle Soup

The willows were turning green, slips of leafs
pointing to one another in a slow tempo soothing
the air with whispers of coming water. Her feet
were bare and the earth cool while a loose hem
feathered her ankles for her walk. Bracing on
stems for the gradual pace to not disturb all the
sleeping turtles, she wished for sunlight in a
shade of green to hurry growth and to keep her
hidden. How close could she lean into the
memory of relatives who lived this life of damp
shells and slow demeanor without alerting them
of her intent. All of grandma’s voices were now
shaking her sleepy mind and begging her return
to answer the details of her dream. It was the
call of tradition that signaled the next step to
seal the new experience into her life basket.
She will be served turtle's energy for her growth.
Off of grandma's favorite tree a knot was cut and
shaped into a bowl. Handles in the shape of
young turtles were carved into the sides. Into
the cottonwood bowl was poured the prepared
soup with essence of memory from a life once
lived. Thanking all that came before this earth
life, was her detailed prayer. A calling of all
water animals to witness the taking of one
energy to give to the energy of another, a child
who passed the test of recalling ancient blood.
Her heart will live with turtle strength. Her
life will be long and purposefully directed. Her
song will be like the cool breeze moving tall
willows above eddies remembering motion.


From Why I Return to Makoce (Many Voices Press, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Lois Red Elk. Used with the permisison of the author.

About this Poem

“In the Dakota/Lakota culture the story of the turtle carries a life of longevity and purposeful living. We make turtle amulets out of deerskin and present them to new mothers who have female babies. The prayer and promise with the amulet is that the child will have a long, purpose-filled life. A small portion of the baby's dried umbilical cord (the last connection between the mother and baby) is sewn into the amulet and kept with the child’s clothing. The prayer and knowledge is that the turtle spirit now cares for the child spirit. Also, when the child matures and has their first dream, they are fed turtle soup. The dream is always good and reveals a lesson or purpose for the child. We celebrate with the child by telling them that the turtle spirit and energy, in the soup, is transferred into the child and will guide and protect the child in and through their dreams.” —Lois Red Elk


Lois Red Elk

Lois Red Elk is the author of Why I Return to Makoce (Many Voices Press, 2015), Dragonfly Weather (Lost Horse Press, 2013), and Our Blood Remembers (Many Voices Press, 2011).

Date Published: 2017-10-19

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