whelks

by mary oliver

Here are the perfect
fans of the scallops,
quahogs, and weedy mussels
still holding their orange fruit —
and here are the whelks —
whirlwinds,
each the size of a fist,
but always cracked and broken —
clearly they have been traveling
under the sky-blue waves
for a long time.

All my life
I have been restless —
I have felt there is something
more wonderful than gloss —
than wholeness —
than staying at home.
I have not been sure what it is.

But every morning on the wide shore
I pass what is perfect and shining
to look for the whelks, whose edges
have rubbed so long against the world
they have snapped and crumbled —
they have almost vanished,
with the last relinquishing
of their unrepeatable energy,
back into everything else.

When I find one
I hold it in my hand,
I look out over that shaking fire,
I shut my eyes. Not often,
but now and again there’s a moment
when the heart cries aloud:
yes, I am willing to be
that wild darkness,
that long, blue body of light.

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