Nancy Keating


Because I need the bowl for a party.
I start to sort the salad of shells it holds
and then can’t stop, the way we chain-smoke
or pop sheets of bubble-wrap. Just one more, one more,
and another. Poking with a finger
for one more tiny white shell,
small white pebble of quartz,
I probe for my all-time favorites,
fragments of clam with the purple edge
smoothed by the ocean, tumbled when the tide
works like a centrifuge to sand down broken edges of shell,
leaving these two-toned bits of wampum,
rim of violet, interior of heavy cream.
And again I grab the pretty bits into my fist,
Each time a different sorting with new logic.
They’ve fascinated me since childhood, these fragments,
colors of spring garden flowers, familiar on land
but not by the water, a shade of purple to gaze on
and drown in with your daydreams. A person could spend years
in daydream. And down through my decades
I keep adding these same quahog bits to my crystal bowl,
and without even stirring the bits in this bowl
I have mixed up bits of past and present,
not knowing which bits I came by in a walk
with my mother, so long ago, so recent,
and which I sorted just now, a week after
a walk with my husband who, like a guest in my life,
sees the crystal bowl with edges of shell and remembers nothing.  

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