It has been so long
since I gathered shells
I’m not sure I know anymore
how it’s done. Which ones
do you reach for? How many
do you keep? How slowly
should you make your way
down the shell-pocked beach?
At first I reach only for the unbroken line.
Some are rough around the edges,
chipped and scarred, and I let these lie,
knowing I will never know the stories
that make such blemishes beautiful.
This one is tinier than my pinky nail,
but perfectly formed. This one white
as the sand. This one is so thin
it blushes on the tip of my finger.
This one ridged in shades of orange and rust
like my mother’s ancient cat, Sedona.
This one is a dark suit, elegantly striped.
This one so smooth between my fingers,
I rub it with pleasure like a worry stone.
Here one opalescent flake clings to another,
and the desire to bend it to breaking surges in me.
And I do. Ashes to ashes; sand to sand. And so it goes,
the water occasionally slapping my legs
clear and cold, like a truth I could get used to,
till my open palm is a shelf full of treasures.
A big black beetle struggles on its back,
and I extend a stick to its grasping legs. Salvation
is short-lived, and after the third rescue, I see.
This isn’t about being right or even useful.
It’s about paying attention and carrying for a while
a few things tenderly in your open hand.
About the Poet:
Emily Rose Proctor is a preacher and poet who grew up in south Alabama and attended Williams College, where she was awarded the Bullock Prize for Poetry by the Academy of American Poets in 2003. Her poetry has been published in Journal for Preachers, Fidelia’s Sisters, Presbyterians Today, The North Carolina Disciple, and Unbound: an Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice. She currently works as a children’s librarian and supply preacher in Santa Rosa Beach, FL, where she lives with her husband and infant son and enjoys introducing people of all ages to poetry.
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