Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Shell




I took the conch down from the shelf
to listen to the sea,
but at my ear a silver elf
sang my name to me.

A voice of silver, high and wild,
no human throat could form,
as if an ectoplasmic child
were crying in a storm.

I held it there and strained to hear
a message, grammar, sense,
but just a syllable was clear,
simplistic eloquence.

The carols of the Lorelei
cost sailing men their souls;
the Sirens’ fetching lullabies
peopled Grecian shoals.

I put it down; its whisperings
could charm the curios;
I knew that there are certain things
it’s better not to know.

But the voice was never in the shell,
the voice was in my head;
fires of heaven, fires of hell,
I followed where it led.

5 comments:

Minx said...

The mind is an accomplished liar, I think it often better to follow the voice of the heart.
I love this one, John, it reminds me of something that I just can't quite remember....

Debi said...

I have that shell and recognise those half remembered voices. I feel like I know EXACTLY where you're coming from this time. It's rare for me to say that.

This poem speaks more to me than any other I can remember reading. Thanks, John.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Brilliant, John, I just loved this poem - it's full of magic and evocation.
My grandfather had a huge conch shell and as a child I loved to listen to the voice of the sea singing to me.

John said...

We need all our voices, Kate. The heart, the mind, the body, our human heritage. It's like a string quartet, where the voices trade off melody, solo, and support; we notice when a voice is missing, or too loud, or out of tune.

Sometimes I think the heart is the most accomplished liar of all. The heart wants what the heart wants; that's all it knows, and it can be as ruthless as the mind, any day.

Debi, thanks. I don't know about others, but I always hope to hear someone say just that.

Thanks Abs. I think we all find magic in the conch when we're kids, and somehow it never wears off, and we never lose that connection to the person who first handed us one and told us to listen.

leslie said...

I would listen wistfully to the inside of the huge conch doorstop in the hallway.
Then I met a viking of a man who had one as a horn. He made it bellow. I have liked them better ever since.