IS A SHELL LIKE REGRET?"
For years you believe the ocean’s inside the shell,
swear you hear the water’s swoosh and moan,
as if the shell remembers,
until some scientific killjoy explains
the ear’s construction, how enclosure and compression
create an echo chamber within your head.
The sound you hear—pulsation of your blood, he says.
Years later that too is proven wrong. Not water, not blood,
but ambient noise, wavelengths, a mix of frequencies,
exciting the conch’s resonant air.
The first shell floats in a salty pool at your feet,
squirmy sea snail long gone, house vacated.
Small fish squiggle in and out.
Every wish you ever wished upon a star,
every miracle you prayed hard for,
every time you went down on your knees and begged God,
every dream that didn’t come true,
each huckster, pettifogger, every trickster
and flimflam artist who ever sucked you in.
All illusion of ocean.
Inside that shell, the sound of regret, relentless as any ocean.
It pounds the shore, rises and falls, surges and pulls,
turns over, slides back out again, and keeps on coming.
Heart-shaped, the conch rests in your hand,
hard to fingernail’s tap and touch,
shatters if dropped.
Pink at the lip, pearlescent, like skin burned and scarred.
You gather one, another and another, collect them
on windowsills until the house is full.
Sometimes at night you hear a chorus of them singing
through the hard shell of your grief, singing its own song,
so bitter and so sweet.
© by Diane Lockward