I pick up the blue-striped curlicue jacket
Of a lost mollusk. My heels sink
In the sand, soggy from the runaway
Foam that slaps and slides forward again.
I pocket the shell, a lone white gull feather,
Reject trails of raggedy black brittle
Crab pincers, a grit-crusted raspberry
Dannon container, a child’s chewed-up rubber thong.
Not much selection against this sundown, silvery
Cloud-shingled sky. None of the cowries–whorls
And dips and nodules, creamy white and brown–
None of the turrets, tritons, turkey wings,
That with summer’s salvation
From book strap and pencil case,
Beginning with the class-wide whoop
At the final bell, so defined my life.
“She can swim, my little one, watch her swim,”
My grandmother boomed to her inner-tubed
Mah-jongg cronies, clustered around like barnacles
To a pier. Our tube was snug–for me,
My grandmother, my grandmother’s breasts.
I’d slither out, a frolicking porpoise arcing up
And under and up, return to kisses and freckled,
Leathery-skinned applause. A school of white-capped
Inner tubes, we’d paddle back to shore.
Stalking the edge, I’d sift through seaweed,
Pail in hand, collecting shells.
At a splintery picnic table shaded by an umbrella
Under the palms, my grandfather played pinochle.
I’d sidle up to him. Always, he’d wink, snap
Forward his lower denture with his tongue,
Evoking my practiced yelp. The others would chortle
And wheeze and ask me to marry them. I’d sit
Quietly, stacking towers of tottering chips.
After the game, two sweat-drenched sleepwalkers,
We’d head for the luncheonette, order
My grandfather’s cherry soda and my butter-pecan
Cone, numbing cold against the socketed gap
Where I waited for top teeth. A revived windup
Toy, I’d ride right and left on the red vinyl stool.
I’d sit in the tub on top of a half-inch-high
Accumulation of beach, previously plastered to me,
Inside my suit, in the most unlikely places.
The aroma of pot roast mingled with Dial,
Breck, Vitalis, Listerine, as my grandmother,
The aproned Ethel Merman of West Bahama Drive,
Bellowed a coloratura “Seventy-six Trombones”
And dashed more paprika into the pot.
My grandfather snoozed in front of the television,
The Hollywood Sun-Tattler on his lap.
Dinner over, on the back porch, against
A streaky cobalt and apricot sky,
The scent of gardenias and ripening mangos,
And the sputtering putt-putt-putt of the sprinklers,
The three of us praised and sorted shells.
On a different beach, at the close of a day,
I still scavenge the shore, combing the sand
For what has been taken away, and what has been
Tossed back, looking to the sea
For a salt-sticky seven-year-old–honey tanned,
Her corkscrew ponytails wagging–a bikinied
Torpedo crashing into the water
With a wild-splatter belly-flop splash,
Walking à la handstand, diving
Under a wave, so as not to be
Tumbled to shore, rising to the surface
To wait for the next breaker, bobbing.