A Human Error
by Nancy Willard
All alone on the sand it stood.
A moon snail, big as a peach,
shining as if the sea lit it
to give the drowned a decent burial.
I admired its chalky armor, a house
for an anchorite polisted with prayers,
or a slim girl tucked into a tower.
When the firest wave covered it,
I thought of the tide, of moon snails broken
and tossed aside. I thought
of their corridors without footfalls,
of their turrets without pennants
cracked open to shadowns and voices.
I thought of the morning light opening
and closing, and the stars rising.
I watched the sea place ist beautiful coffing
on the dark page of the sand.
When the waves pulled back,
I sprang forward. I grabbed the moon snail.
The dark mushroom of its body
spilled into my hand like a velvet sleeve.
Its frilly flesh grasped mine. I threw it down.
Safe now, It tried to refold itself.
Uncrinkling its pleats, disordered by fear,
it sank, disheveled and blind, into dand,
as if through a trapdoor on a bare stage.
Does the taint of my hand haunt it?
Does its muschel remember me? Baffled
by light, by sweat, by a shape not its own,
does it go on smoothing itself like laundry
washing me out of its simple body?