Form

By Campbell McGrath

Ocean like beaten metal removed from the cooling pail,
mark of the hammer and tongs, the smith’s signage,
grain revealed as by pressure of the baren in a Japanese print,
substantial, bodily, color of agave, color of bitter medicine,
translucent only when the waves rise up to break at the bar,
fingered by sun to the texture of meringue or Verano glass.
Miami is not famous for its seashells. This beach,
continually eroded, is held together by borrowed sand,
graded by tractors at dawn, willed into place by the tourism industry.
But today, after a week-long barrage of northeast winds,
it resembles the famous shell beds of Sanibel,
though these are mostly bits and pieces arrayed in sinuous drifts,
the frilled lips and spooned-out tails of horse and queen conchs,
sponge tubes, varieties of seaweed and uprooted coral,
tiny broken elkhorn infants, torn fans, punchcards,
serrated discs and tribal ornaments, teeth, dismembered ears
and bleached stone knuckles of a skeleton seeking restitution.
And the eye, from its cupola of privilege, scanning the wreckage
to seize upon the unbroken cylinder of an olive shell,
paired lightning whelks revolving in the wash,
purple scallop over-written with calcified worm tunnels—
how does it know to seek out only perfect forms?

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/03/form/305610/