Hear / the ocean's roar and backdrop din / in the death-hollowed shells.
For Ryland and Kai
As a child at the shore
I was assured by my grown-ups
that if I held any sand-and-water-worn conch
shell to my ear, I would hear the sea.
And I did, or so it seemed to me.
In the summers of my prime
I assured the same thing to my own
water-borne children and held seashells
to their ears, asking them if they could hear
the ocean’s roar and backdrop din
in the death-hollowed shells, and they would nod
Later in the mid-beach tide pools
of my consciousness on the east shore
of Middle Passage, banked by bluffs of belief
and sand duned world history, I held hand-sized cowries
to my ear and heard the waves’ unscrolling roll call
of forcibly drowned African names, heard sand-ground,
groaned prayers, curses, cries, screams, pleas
of five-centuries’ many thousand-thousand
by slave ships into the bottomless blues
of that deep, salt water hyphen between African
But these post-prime days,
as time wears down my body
and the ebbing tide of life
weathers my mind,
just as waves
of salty sea
at the shore, watching
my frolicking young grandsons play
in tide pools, and plash in the surf, and splash
sea water on one another, whenever I hold a spiral
remnant of a conch shell to my good ear, I hear nothing
but the ocean’s measured music,
its crescendos, diminuendos,
and my grandboys’
This poem appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of UU World (page 22).
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Everett Hoagland is emeritus professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and was the first poet laureate of New Bedford, Massachusetts (1994–1998). He is a member of First Unitarian Church in New Bedford.
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