Wednesday, April 7, 2010

This Shell

This shell is a silver blanket, wrinkled from travel.
This shell is like the head of a fox, a narrow triangle of clever insouciance.
This shell is a crown with broken edges. Its owner found it in a parking lot, a furl of paper with grease stains beside the fleur de lis.
This shell is a rubber stamp, an icon of ownership and approval.
This shell is a daisy, one of those big ones you see in the median of the highway, with a grainy, tousled center the shade of French’s mustard on a hotdog at a ballgame.
This shell remembers the time you went skinny dipping at Pismo Beach when you were eighteen and the moon was just past being full.
This shell has a way of catching fluorescent light and making it softer.
This shell knows what you had for breakfast, because it was sitting there on your table as you added raisins to the sweet cinnamon soup of your oatmeal.
This shell laughs a lot and was found by a child in a good mood. It needs to be around people who tell jokes.
This shell is like a statue I saw last week, a cherub standing on a pedestal in a garden, his belly round and dark in the afternoon sun.
This shell got chewed on by your Boston terrier and has a set of tooth marks embedded in it now.
This shell came to me in the middle of the night once and murmured something unintelligible to me under its breath.
This shell distracts me from doing my work with its pink luminescence.
This shell is a lava lamp waiting to brighten a very dark room with its tumbling pods of pink and blue liquid.
This shell got dropped on the kitchen floor but didn’t break. It picked up a piece of eggshell with its fine shellteeth though and they are shells of sorts together now.
This shell helps me teach because it looks like anything and everything.
This shell wants to be returned to the dunes. It’s lonely for lots of sand.
This shell puts out fires with the siren song of its contours and the momentum of its whispered wishes.
This shell resembles a Viking. It has that kind of ferocity about it, that invading soul.
This shell resists being mine although I carry it with me in my suitcase when I travel. I’ve nearly left it behind three times now, but I always remember it at the last minute.
This shell won’t pay my bills, but it would if it could.
This shell’s voice resists the kind of language we know.
This shell holds things together with its textures and edges in a way that surprises me every time I see it.
This shell is like an extension cord, a path from electricity’s source to an ear or a tool.
This shell is either a ghost or a wicked witch. I’m not sure which yet.
This shell has a shine like a Coleman lantern inside a tent.
This shell is like rust, a slow devouring of surface, a pouring of bloodtint into what used to be a mild field of plain gray metal.
This shell came from a thrift store and hasn’t been near the ocean in a long time.
This shell is Neil Young’s rusty harmonica, lost among model trains, waiting to buzz its owner’s lips again at the start of a song.
This shell is a place where something small and salty once lived.
This shell holds many stories, each of them a curve of voice and water, a trajectory of imagined seaweed and the remembered currents of fish traveling past.
This shell needs your eyes to do its job.
This shell sounds like the passing beam of a lighthouse moving muffled through banks of Atlantic fog.
This shell is the birthplace of a small mollusk.
This shell won’t tell any tales out of school.
This shell belonged to my cousin Ruth but then she gave it to me when I said I admired its shape.
This shell has an accent all its own, a pidgin burr that makes up its own words.
This shell is a paperweight, and students like to pick it up and check it out. I keep waiting for someone to drop it.
This shell is a way of seeing, a spiral of narrative continuity in the soulspace of my classroom, a harbor for writing prompts, and a way for me to lose myself in daydreams of Monterey and Cumberland Island.
This shell is a gift, a coin, a piece of currency from me to you saying: be still. Hold out your hand. This is my heart, and if you listen, you can hear it beating through the whorls of chitin, a lonesome percussion that needs no turn of phrase or metaphor to give it life.

I wrote this poem during preplanning in August of 2007 after reading a lesson plan in a book by George Hillocks, Narrative Writing, which was about using a bunch of seashells to teach figurative language. A couple of hours later, during lunch, I found in the teacher workroom a brown plastic bucket of seashells that another teacher had evidently collected over summer vacation. I may use them as part of a creative writing exercise after standardized testing is over and I am freer to do such things.
© Laura Sorrells 2007
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Georgia, United States
I live at the edge of the forest in a little town in the north Georgia mountains. I teach sixth grade Language Arts and am writing a memoir of sorts about family, spirituality, and narrative. I am also exploring a possible writing project having to do with contemporary lay contemplative experience and how it might be informed by the Desert Fathers and Mothers of early Christianity. I am a relatively recent convert to Roman Catholicism and an admirer of Pope Francis, Leonardo Boff, Joan Chittister, and Richard Rohr. I'm a Lay Associate of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Georgia. I am interested in indigenous cultures, narratives, and spirituality, especially how these can inform my spirituality as a lay contemplative. I write, read, take pictures, play around with creating ephemera from paper and cloth and other organic things. I cook, hike, watch wildlife, and collect random bits of interesting oddness, both tangible and abstract. I am a seer of smallness and a caretaker of ridiculous minutiae. If you want, e-mail me at or