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

  • January 2019 Winners

    • First Place

      How the Wind Works
      by Alison Armstrong-Webber
      The Waters

      Second Place

      Sleep Walker
      by Brenda Levy Tate
      PenShells

      Third Place

      The Woman Who Grew up in My House Finds Me on Facebook and Comes to Take a Look Around
      by Antonia Clark
      The Waters

  • December 2018 Winners

    • First Place

      Tires
      by Kenny A. Chaffin
      Babilu

      Second Place

      Scouring Pots While the World Ends
      by Elizabeth Koopman
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Third Place

      Poetry in the Cultural Revolution
      by Bob Bradshaw
      The Waters