Poems by Valerie Nieman

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On the Beach

We came upon shells, mounds of shells, many ancient and weathered
     and gleaming white against the white-gray sand.

          — Edwin Way Teale, from North with the Spring, “Seashell Islands”

by Valerie Nieman

From Canary Fall 2015

Valerie lives in the shade of a mammoth tulip poplar at the headwaters of the Cape Fear watershed.

So many, such lives:
oysters relentlessly seining
the sea, mussels too,
draining the insubstantial, parting
the water from the waters,
scallops improbably hunting
on jet drive, oyster drills
drilling, whelks inserting
a toothed foot into the soft
flesh of their brethren, coquinas
rolling out of Carolina sand
with each wave
and furiously reburying,
in such numbers that even with flesh
tiny as baby’s fingernail,
the multitudes, aggregated,
would boil into a hearty broth.

Such onetime lives:
carbonate castles
knitted up from the waves,
emptied, become home
to hermit crabs
trying on the concavities
of the columella
into which their soft abdomens
like size-10 derrieres in size-8 jeans
are snuggled—
sometimes a wholesale
the largest, finding a
greater gastropod,
moving on up, and the next
taking his former abode,
down to the least
and miserable clinger
to a sponge or a worm shell
now claiming a tiny palace.

Appeared in a longer form in North Carolina Literary Review and the author's new book of poems, Hotel Worthy.

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