If you hold the shell to your ear you will hear the sounds
of the sea and the vibrations of the ship as it sails from
Lyttelton to Wellington ‘overnight’ across Cook Strait—
or so my grandmother told me …
Hold the shell to your ear, hear the sounds of the sea:
the sandhill’s grasses whistling over sliding sand where a boy
leaves his sandals. Stand at the lace curtains on tip-toe and watch
the ship’s long, low lights gleam through North Beach’s mist
on its way to Wellington. The surf booming from a sea-shell
like a bakelite radio tuned to Aunt Daisy.
The maiden-hair fern on the table; the black polished stove
with its row of vents glowing like ship’s lights.
And after you’ve seen and heard it all, it’s time for bed …
The shell is put back on the shelf next to the clock and pencils
and the envelopes for writing letters to people in faraway places:
people who eat porridge without burning their lips.
LISTEN to ‘The Shell’ by Peter Olds
Peter Olds lives in Dunedin. His poems have appeared in Big Smoke, Landfall, Otago Daily Times and The Best of Best New Zealand Poems. In 1978 he was Robert Burns Fellow at Otago University. He was awarded the Janet Frame Award for Poetry in 2005. His selected poems, you fit the description, with an introduction by Ian Wedde, was published by Cold Hub Press in 2014.
Olds comments: ‘“The Shell” is about a child visiting his grandmother who lives by the sea, set in the 1950s.
‘The ship is the overnight ferry that once plied between Lyttelton and Wellington and was the usual way New Zealanders travelled between the North and South Islands in those days.
‘The shell is a conch shell.’