by Adam Tavel
Because they are not made
for nursing home nightstands or mothballed attics
I stand on Assateague Island chucking
your mother’s shells back to the Atlantic
like the boy who twists a thin branch and breaks it,
desperate to glue its splintered bark with sap.
Lifeguard whistling from his throne, water
puckering over conchs bigger than catcher’s mitts,
I pitch by the half-dozen now,
a sharp edge slicing my finger on the final hurl.
My hand stings in sea-salt;
waves lap the rolled cuff of my shorts.
What would she say of this rushed mess
if she had breath, her memories drifting into sand?
And later, when I scour our glove box for band-aids
I try to ignore the pale girl bowed in distant foam,
shells washing back
like so many miracles at her feet.
Adam Tavel’s poetry has appeared in Ariel, Perigee, and Poet Lore,
among others. He teaches English at Wor-Wic Community College
and serves as the poetry editor of Conte, an online journal of narrative
writing. Currently he is an MFA candidate at Vermont College.
Since “Returning” grew out of a real personal experience (I actually
heaved those shells), my main impulse was to write a simple, organic
elegy free of emotional and rhetorical clutter. At a certain point it
took the form of unrhymed free-verse couplets, which helped guide
the speaker’s rhythm, pacing, and sense of futility. Despite several
revisions, the final image remained the same; it seemed to strike the
perfect balance between action and reaction, power and powerless-
ness that I wanted to achieve, and ultimately unified the rest of the
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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary
Volume 2, Number 1
Copyright © 2007
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to material
published in the Apple
Valley Review are retained
by the individual authors