Karen Paul Holmes: “She Knows the Names of Shells”


Now that she lives on Sanibel Island,

my sister teaches me the shells.

Along the tideline, she picks up one,

a kitten’s paw—

shows me its ribs like toe bones.

Calico scallop, baby’s ear, pear whelk.

She bends for broken

bits too, keeps them for their color

and pattern, the pocked and sea-battered

slipped into pant pockets.

What makes us hold on to beauty,

the pink swirls and green veins? Collections

lined on a tray like Eileen’s

—one perfect sample of each.

The rest, she glues to painted canvas—

coral, nine-armed starfish, seagrape leaves

brushed with pearlized white, as if still lit

by the lamp of sun.

I try hard not to bring shells home.

I don’t need even one more

memory in a Haviland bowl.

Eileen and I know how to hold

this time even when we’re a state apart.

Heads lowered in “the Sanibel stoop,”

we walk, reminding ourselves

to look up. At cloud swirls, the vein of horizon.

Terns and the rare skimmers lift before us,

follow the south-curving shore.

We turn north,

scan the slanted lines of sea grass

for our path home, where beach becomes

dune becomes land.

Karen Paul Holmes has two poetry collections, No Such Thing As Distance (Terrapin Books, January, 2018) and Untying the Knot (Aldrich Press, 2014). Other publications include Prairie Schooner, Poetry East, Crab Orchard Review, diode, and Poet Lore.

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