Poetry Friday: What Does A Seashell Know?


My grandmother gave me my first seashell when I was about five years old. Since then, these treasures from the sea have fascinated me. My grandmother was not a sentimental person; she endured many hardships, including raising three children through the Depression, during her long life. But she was a generous person, not only with material objects, but also with her time, and especially her knowledge. An eighth-grade graduate, she nevertheless was a storehouse of information which she willingly and often shared with her family. Rachel Carson once said that “if a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” My grandmother was this person to me.

The red helmet shell my grandmother gave me when I was five.
The red helmet shell my grandmother gave me when I was five.

When she became bedridden in her late eighties, my mother, sister, cousins, and I faced the daunting task of emptying her house. Most of the shells that I had loved studying as a child became mine. I’ve shared them with my kids and my students, and I have them scattered throughout my home. An arrangement here, a basket there, a single magnificent conch on a table. I think of my grandmother every time I look at them.

So when Michelle, of Today’s Little Ditty, announced Joyce Sidman’s challenge two weeks ago to write a “Deeper Wisdom” poem, I didn’t even have to think about the subject of my poem. But I had so many ideas, and I really struggled with this. There are many earlier, very different versions. As I worked on this today, I realized that the title really should  be “What Do Mollusks Know?” but that doesn’t have the same appeal, does it?

What Do Seashells Know?

What Do Seashells Know?

To turn their bones inside out,

and spin a swirling castle,

armed with turrets and spikes.

What Do Seashells Know?

To nestle within lustrous walls,

tinged pink, like the sky at dawn,

safe inside their sea-borne home.

© Catherine Flynn, 2015

My collection of conchs.
My collection of conchs.

Please be sure to visit Tara at A Teaching Life for the Poetry Friday Round Up!

14 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: What Does A Seashell Know?

  1. I love this sweet remembrance of your grandmother. And I am happy you did not rhyme. (One of my great struggles.) The turret and castle of the shell as a place of safety resonates. Your end result is beautifully woven.


  2. What a beautiful poem, Catherine! As Michelle said, it’s lovely and heart-driven. Thanks for sharing your memories of your grandmother and about your shell collection. Love that “swirling castle.” 🙂


  3. I found both the poem and the story behind it moving. It’s so great your grandmother was that Rachel-Carson-wonder person (as was mine) and that you could take her shells and do so much with them. Finding perhaps even more wonder than she did, but… well not to measure, different wonder! A friend told me about her children would not want her beach glass. But maybe grandchildren? Sometimes a generation is skipped to “see.”


  4. I don’t know, Catherine, but your science friend here rather likes mollusk in your title! I particularly like your first stanza.

    Thanks for sharing your poem and memories with us.


  5. Absolutely gorgeous! The more of these poems I read, the more I like the ones that don’t rhyme. I struggled to write a rhyming one — perhaps I’ll try another. I love shells and the ocean, so this particular subject resonated with me. (Thanks for not using mollusk, lol! Much less romantic for spinning castles.)


  6. I loved your remembrance, & imagine your grandmother would, too, Catherine. It’s a beautiful poem. I too spent so much time learning from my grandmothers, love that I can aspire to be that kind of grandmother to my own grandchildren. Seashells hold animals, but so many memories, too.


  7. The caption of that first photo made tears spring to my eyes. How perfect to read your poem through a lens of salt water…


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