Whelk Shell

Mud-colored outside,
sinuous, shaped
like an overgrown comma,

with gaps that reveal
a pearly spiral
like the brooch

my mother kept in velvet
and never wore.
Broken on the journey

to shore, it landed
among perfect scallops
and was ravaged

at the headland,
where I watched a gull scoop it up,
drop it to smash the shell,

and with one hoarse shriek
touch down
to gobble its flesh.

I see the ruined shell
as I might gaze
at the headless statues

of gods, and imagine
their eyes whole.
In my mind,

I repair the whelk shell
gluing fragments,
carving the curvy pouch,

and whittling the crown.
I hold it to my ear
and hear the settlers shout

at the smell of land
and the wreck bell ring
for drowned passengers.

But the shell in my hand, 
split open, is mute,
a broken temple

where worshippers once stood,
keeper of what is not said,
and incomplete, as I am

shattered, in doubt,
inside chipped walls,
its silence my silence.

"Whelk Shell" originally appeared in Summer 2010 (Vol. IV, No. 2).

Grace Schulman was awarded the 2016 Frost Medal for Distinguished Lifetime Achievement by the Poetry Society of America. She is the author of seven books of poems, including her latest, Without a Claim. An earlier collection, Days of Wonder: New and Selected, was selected by Library Journal as one of the “best poetry books” of 2002, and was a finalist for the Phi Beta Kappa Award of that year. Besides the Frost Medal, her honors include the Aiken Taylor Award for poetry, a Guggenheim Fellowship, four Pushcart prizes, and New York University's Distinguished Alumni Award.
    Editor of The Poems of Marianne Moore (Viking, 2003), she is Distinguished Professor of English at Baruch College, CUNY. Schulman is former director of the Poetry Center, 92nd Street Y, 1974–84, and former poetry editor of The Nation, 1971–2006.