J. Allyn Rosser

The Shell
January 6, 2014 Rosser J. Allyn

The Shell

When I picked it up from the sand

the soft creature was long rinsed out.


A stubby spiral – thick, stark white –

its opening a grudge; a curved slit.

The whole thing was fiercely crusted over

with a sharp pattern of battlements.


Bristling.  Intact.

It seemed from all sides

to move, as Michaelangelo said sculpture must,

with an inner fury


which contained me,

locked my gaze

from the surf’s clamorous dazzle,

the sippable blue lake of sky,

the stretch of sand that held my companion

walking slowly up ahead

since it had been necessary to drop

the subject we were discussing.


How long could such a small thing live?

The shell weighed practically nothing,

wind-rocked in my palm.


Our talk always circles away

just in time from the terrible job she likes,

her unbearable husband.


What I admired was the commitment

in accreting so slowly

from its own tiny guts

this aggressive petrification

whose proportionately unwieldy size

and weight even in seawater

must have hampered its efforts

to get around, gather nourishment.


Was this not the very embodiment of passion?



She had stopped and was waiting

with a conciliatory scowl.

She and I had been friends a long time.

I dropped the shell into my pocket

where it would chafe my thigh on our walk back.

But not before I thought about showing it to her,

and explaining – I knew I would have to explain,

and even then I knew she would have to be

polite about not quite seeing – its appeal.

J. Allyn Rosser’s fourth poetry collection, Mimi’s Trapeze, appeared in 2014 from the University of Pittsburgh Press. She has received fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEA, and the Ohio Arts Council. She teaches at Ohio University.