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.
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.