Friday poem: 'Hermit Crab'

13 November 2015

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.

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'Hermit Crab' is published in Chorale at the Crossing by Peter Porter.

 

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