M.E. Hope
Horizontal photo of a turtle with a dark vignette.
Photo by Etienne Pauthenet

Seaman Recruit Robinson was a petite black woman
always smiling, though few met her eyes.
On first look you saw the scar, her entire
face was burn—a healed swirl of pink 
and brown, a nose less nose than placeholder
for the center of her face. But her eyes 
and smile—those calmed every one 
of us. And she did know us all, knew 
names and with every small conversation
remembered our stories. Hey, Goff, you
get a letter from your granny in Georgia?
Recruit Wortman, tell me about the desert
and mountains. And I wanted her story. 
It took the eight weeks to learn it,
to have her tell it out; she finally did
our last weekend there. We’d graduated;
it was our first liberty, and she and I 
were some of the twenty left to stand the watch
that first night. With no more inspections,
no more threats of hurricanes or setbacks,
we gathered in the small lounge next 
to the CC’s office. Getting to know one
another after all this time.  

I don’t remember the fire, my mom
and my brothers told me, I was just a baby. We lived 
in a little cabin, my daddy 
was at work, and pan of grease caught up
some curtains and those fell; the cabin 
burned while my mom was rescuing me.  

She smiled again, looked around at us.
Kids called me Turtle, but my grandmother 
said those are the strongest animals,
carry their own home, live longer than
the world. Tough-skinned. She laughed,
and I have five brothers that gave a beating
or two every year I was in school. 
And that’s it, joined the Navy ’cause I
want to see the world. She looked
around at us, shy again, chose a girl
who hadn’t said a word in weeks: 
what about you, Hall, why are you here?
Nudging my foot with hers, she whispered
slow and steady, laughed again,
leaned toward Hall, and said, why’re you here? 

M.E. Hope currently lives and writes in Belgium. A recipient of a Fishtrap Fellowship, Playa Residency, and Individual Artist Fellowship from the Oregon Arts Commission, she spends her days watching the amazing Belgian Blue cattle and searching for the perfect cheese.