Shell Game

by Fred Longworth
PenShells
Honorable Mention, July 2011
Judged by Tyehimba Jess


The father handed a conch shell to the son.
Put it to your ear—he said—
and you can hear the ocean.

The shell felt big and heavy for small hands.
The boy held it this way and that,
and finally wrestled it against his ear.
He heard a rushing sound, like when
he got down on hands and knees, and put his head
to the vent for the air-conditioner.

He was just old enough to understand
similars—how the rusty hinge on the gate
into the alley sent the same shiver up his spine
as the bantam rooster at Uncle Henry’s farm.

And so, the way that the sea, the blower behind
the wall, and the conch shell kind of
came together was a fun surprise.

The boy put the shell to his ear again.
He remembered how waves crashed
onto the beach, how the noise rose and fell.
The shell seemed different. The sound it made
was always about the same.

How does the shell do this?—the boy asked.
The father smiled. Tomorrow, they would drive
to the cove, take the stairway
down to Sunny Jim’s Cave in the sea cliff,
and listen to the huge, deep musical notes,
the wind fingering the grotto like a bassoon.


This poem doesn’t try to do more than recount a very simple moment, with very simple language. I’m impressed with that choice, and the ability to sound common place in a space where one is expected to strain toward depth and meaning. Wise choice not to try too hard, and let the day speak for itself. ---Tyehimba Jess

  • August 2017 Winners

    • First Place

      Seasoned with Love
      by Eira Needham
      PenShells

      Second Place

      Ill-used
      by Paul A. Freeman
      The Write Idea

      Third Place

      A Note for Perilous Times
      by Fred Longworth
      PenShells

      Honorable Mention

      Whatever Glorious Else It Is
      by Guy Kettelhack
      Wild Poetry Forum

  • July 2017 Winners

    • First Place

      Corton Beach Holiday Camp, Great Yarmouth
      by Marilyn Francis
      The Write Idea

      Second Place

      Still Waltzing with You
      by Allen M. Weber
      Desert Moon Review

      Third Place

      The Aging Magician Speaks to His Reflection
      by Laurie Byro
      Desert Moon Review

      Honorable Mention

      Seeking Duende
      by Richard Chase
      Desert Moon Review

      Honorable Mention

      Dr. Seuss’s Guide to Manly Health and Training
      by Paul A. Freeman
      The Write Idea

      Honorable Mention

      Resonance
      by Sylvia Evelyn
      Babilu

      Honorable Mention

      celebrating the 45th anniversary of Father’s Day
      by Michael Virga
      The Writer's Block