Edward Weston, Shell (13S), 1927
Here is the curvature of the world.
Slipping a hand into this porcelain moment,
through the eye of that opening
with its knife-edge strata folded
like the anticline exposed in a roadcut,
fingertips register a change in temperature.
The gray interior is cool
like an ocean cave at low tide.
You hear the skittering of crabs
and the slap of fish on water
and something else retreating
farther into the darker chambers.
Your hand's shadow slides across the
slick central column and you remember
a woman's thigh rising from black sheets
in a back room, you remember
the arc of a man's arm reaching upward
between sunflecked waves.
Inside the shell is pearlsmooth
like the wet lining of a mouth,
and you curl your hand
like a tongue against a cheek.
Outside, tracing your thumb
along the pinnacle is like
testing the sharpness of a blade.
You will bleed
seawater from a gill-like slit,
silver nitrate from a papercut.
There is convex to this concave,
surface to this depth:
the disappearing curl of the outer shell
rounds the spiraled shaft like a cresting wave
encircling the trunk of a cypress,
like mist swirling around a unicorn's horn.
Your other hand reaches out
to cup the swell, discovering
in the rippled pattern
a dry texture of sculpted sandstone.
Now, you think, I possess.
There is the distant click
of the shutter, but the photograph will not
hold your image
holding the image
of the shell,
its unseen images.
Yet always you are there,
one hand cradling, one hand penetrating,
the body of a woman
the body of a man
like a musical instrument
or a message in twists of light
or the sound of the ocean retreating into
the chambers of your ear.
The image possesses you
long after the flash fades
and the shell
begins its slow roll off the pedestal,
carrying with it your own body
painted on the cave wall, drawn
in the patterns only the mollusk can interpret.
Translated in the morning, imperfectly,
like a dream.
Carrie Naughton is a freelance bookkeeper who writes speculative fiction, nature essays, and poetry. Her work can be read at Strange Horizons, Zoomorphic, and Crab Creek Review. Her website is carrienaughton.com, and she writes an eclectic newsletter at CarrieThis.substack.com.
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