Friday poem: 'Hermit Crab'
by Peter Porter
I have no new shell to retreat to
Having scanned the beach (it has never
Seemed so wide and such a tympanum
For the thundering ocean) and watched the gulls
Hanging their banners of transformation
Across the sky, I used to believe
That this shell I soon must leave
Was the only shell I have ever lived in,
Perhaps I was remembering the glorious nacre
Of the home I was introduced to
When first I looked about me
And which protected me in ways
I did not recognize. Sometimes
I recall other shells as a long symposium
Stretching in a clockless aura –
But always and ever shells upon the beach.
How cold the beach and lonely,
The last domain of light’s remembering.
Without a home, one made of current comforts
And loving faces, forgetting
Becomes impossible, and yet the silence
Of the beach, the missing sun
And time-tied stars show
Everything’s forgotten and I can forget.
A note on 'Hermit Crab', by Christine Porter
This poem is, for me, a powerful hymn to death and the letting go of life. Peter uses the image of the hermit crab to convey his lifelong experience of protecting the most vulnerable, delicate and fragile parts of himself. But here he also finds himself in another moment of transition from one state of being to another; he fears there are no more shells, no further protection for vulnerable, exposed flesh – or, indeed, for the sometimes fragmentary and defenceless mind.
'Hermit Crab' is published in Chorale at the Crossing by Peter Porter.