Sand, Shells & Sea Glass: Poetry Prompt and Playlist

From sandmen, to silver shells, to the group The Four Shells (and, no pun originally intended, artist Rasmus Seebach), our new playlist will give you an ocean of sound to write by…

Sand, shells & sea glass. Strolling along tidal pools and long stretches of beach at low tide, you never know what treasures you might find.

Poetry Prompt:
Write a poem about a walk on the beach, looking for the perfect shell.

Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s a poem from Maureen we enjoyed:

When light bends

at 22 degrees, the sun
dog shows its face, red-
edge glints in my eyes,
the brightest spots
on my horizon

—by Maureen Doallas

Photo by Jonathan Pincas. Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Heather Eure.


Sometimes we feature your poems in Every Day Poems, with your permission of course. Thanks for writing with us!

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  1. says


    I’ve come back to the place you died.
    I never thought I would. It was too
    much seeing you that night when the
    wave pulled you out. Like you were
    the ocean’s and not for me. You were
    for me, though. Married eight
    years. Three kids. A normal wonderful
    beautiful life. And then the ocean
    took you. We’re out here now – me
    and our kids – to remember you.
    How can we forget? You’re on my mind
    every moment of the day. My heart
    doesn’t beat my own blood. My
    breaths aren’t my own. I can’t wait
    to see you again, but I can wait
    to see you again. Our kids need
    me now more than an ocean ever
    could need you. Alex brought me
    a sand dollar. “This one,” she said,
    and I put it in my pocket. When
    we get home, we’ll place it in
    bowl on the dining room table
    filled with the shells you collected
    with the kids. Remember that
    conical one you found by the
    lighthouse with her – the yellow
    one – ten minutes before you died?

  2. says


    The ocean soughs, wanting
    to re-place the conch, pinned
    in the dune turned suddenly sallow
    below the moon-blued sky. Not
    a nest for the turtle eggs, broken
    sacs spilling unseen hearts,
    my own as tiny as the smallest
    wish I made for you.

  3. says

    Lust or Life

    I hold the tiny mollusk
    in my hand, my lust for his shell
    struggles with his right to live
    whatever life he has. His brown beauty
    lies beyond the borders of my mind.

    My mind will not bend to the design
    of the Sidney Opera House
    nor comprehend the intricacies
    of man’s neural configuration.
    My hands cannot paint a Wyeth

    nor master a Chopin concerto.
    I’ll never conduct the Philharmonic
    nor qualify for Wimbledon. Politics
    leave me cold, and the calculations
    of the chemist seem as confusing

    as hieroglyphics on a cave wall.
    Why should I presume to take
    the life I could never make, place
    the shell on a shelf within the crust
    that surrounds my life?

    I gently stroke the whorls
    of his shell, then bury him in the sand.
    Later, I wonder, did I keep him
    too long in the air? If I caused his death,
    shouldn’t I have had his shell?

  4. says

    This isn’t a new poem (well maybe a few lines are new), but it fits the theme.

    Recommended Reading for the Beach
    for Peggy B.

    No best-sellers, nothing soon to be
    a major motion picture. Start with this:

    A postcard from your parents, from the day
    that they first showed you water without end.

    The label from a canister of salt,
    the miracle that made your father float.

    An invitation from the white sand beach,
    engraved, addressed to “Soles (no shoes required).”

    Perdido: treasure map that leads you where
    you lost yourself the last time you were here.

    Etch-a-Sketches drawn by shorebirds’ feet,
    shaken blank by the advancing surf.

    The daily horoscope of wind and wave,
    smooth or rough, becalmed or wild with praise.

    The gospel pamphlets from the dolphin pack,
    evangelists alert to prophecy.

    Sturdy board-book of the toddler-sage
    who understands the teasing of the foam.

    Magazines of iPod-plugged-in teens,
    a page or two, then languid on a towel.

    Litanies of petitions from the gulls,
    the grasses steadily answering, “Hear our prayer.”

    Poems of the seashells at low tide …
    limpet, slipper, scallop, angel wing.

    Foreign-language lessons of oil tankers,
    horizon-hazed, as slow as satellites.

    The banner headline of a thundercloud,
    then stocks-page agate type of distant rain.

    Romance novels, starting at their ends:
    wedding parties on the beach at dusk.

    Hieroglyphs that baby turtles scrawled,
    picking up where unmet moms left off.

    The south-aimed beach, a coffee table book —
    vanishing points of sunrise and sunset.

    The logbook written in your husband’s eyes,
    a history you both can tell by heart.

    Four palimpsests of faces you two made,
    part him, part you, part lines from their own lives.

    The hymn the lighthouse knows, its beacon’s sweep
    a rhythmic chorus — hear it? “All is well.”

    At last, the Compline of the shrimpers’ nets:
    Grant us peaceful night and perfect end.

      • says

        Laura–those metaphors just made me pause with joy. I grew up on Southern California beaches and am still within 3 miles of the coast here in the PNW and we visit often. I could picture each ‘story’ you wrote. Lovely.

        • says

          Thank you, Jody. This is about Perdido Key in Alabama on the Gulf coast. I wrote it for a friend who was dying of cancer and taking one last beach vacation with her family. I haven’t been there myself, but I got many details from someone else who has.

    • says

      Laura, I read this three times for the images it gave to me. So much detail without breaking the rhythm is not easy to do. I kept saying, “this is my favorite line…no this one is. The poem greatly expands its actual size. And then to end with “perfect end.” I loved it!

  5. says

    Playing with some facts about conch shells:



    The perfect shell would
    carry its carry its own
    house on its back, its ridged-roof
    evidence of long experience
    at sea, the snail’s knowledge
    of basic survival in the whorl
    of water through the siphonal canal.


    The perfect shell would
    explode God’s breath in the blow hole,
    calling the sun to night, the moon
    to bed near the Scorpion’s tail,
    Orion to draw back his bow
    to fell the unruly Ursa Major.


    The perfect shell would
    hold the ink of scribes sky-
    writing their poems the length
    of cirrostratus clouds.


    The perfect shell would
    parry with intruders after
    the queen’s pink pearls,
    cut with a crystalline edge
    sharp as concertina wire
    hands that hallow the flame
    beyond the sea wall.


    The perfect shell would
    mute the mouth full
    of the meat of the mollusks.

  6. says

    The sand a gritty colour of dishwater blond
    It was sticking wet to my white cold feet
    I only wanted to find a memory to take
    A smooth black stone
    One would surely feel good in my palm
    I looked up from scanning the sand
    And from watching my feet sinking
    and making little foot-sized lakes
    I could see through the tunnel of my hood
    A woman standing in place
    Going nowhere
    I headed my hood in her direction
    There she was all long nails painted
    The pinkness skuffed and chipped
    From collecting black rocks
    The kind that she thought might
    Have something inside
    When she broke them open
    I continued on my way
    Of the hunt for a smooth stone
    That would feel good in the hand

  7. says

    —For Abby (married 7/6/14, now in a new home)

    The hermit crabs are practicing and
    my daughter brings them shells

    as they grow. In the dead of night,
    like bad tenants, they move

    to another home; she is delighted.
    She doesn’t know they are practicing.

    One day Kirby dies, her favorite.
    She cries and I tell her Kirby has moved,

    like when he changed shells, but she says
    death, and that he is gone and buried

    in the matchbox under the roses; she cries.
    She will not have another one, and I learn

    suggestions are not welcome. The survivor,
    only a reminder of the dead, receives little care.

    This is a chasm between us — a dead crab
    that so much depended on. In the Winter

    she searches each wave as if a resurrection is at hand,
    but hope does not suffice. Time moves

    into November’s shell and she hears a blessing.
    Care moves into love for the other, and new shells.

    She watches the Spring garden, the snow receding,
    the first rose slowly emerging from the green bud.

  8. says

    From the Horizon

    All morning you stared past the waves
    to where time vanished into the sky.

    Beyond that line you could not see me
    looking back now with wonder, from where

    I tell you not to be afraid of that horizon.
    What did you imagine there, an island

    with tide pools, your small, narrow arm
    thrust deep in their waters;

    the sightless stars languidly waiting
    for the touch of your sightless fingers?

  9. says


    He sat in the sand
    and thought
    about sand taken out to sea;

    he thought
    about the waves
    swallowing castles,

    and thought
    about the sea:
    what it had made,

    is making.

    He thought
    about great ships
    dissolving through millennia,

    like pollen
    in the rain;

    and for himself
    he wanted believing

    to survive the dark
    night of death,

    not memory,

    only the mystery
    of this shell
    and its whorls.

  10. says

    i stop seeking
    perfection in
    the delicacy of
    fragments on
    the shoreline

    it is freedom to
    surrender the
    (futile) mending of
    the fractured

    and instead to
    feel with
    my feet the
    edges and
    curves of
    in the relentless
    steady coming
    forth of
    the surf
    on the sand

    and to seek
    not expected shapes
    (a constancy in
    form) but the inner
    colors and curves
    unique to what
    is made from
    just one piece of

    i stop seeking
    perfection in
    the delicacy of
    fragments on
    the shoreline

  11. says

    i smile as i grind
    sand in my sandals
    grit between my toes –

    my husband sits on curb
    brushes grains off before
    shoes go on

    we drive each other

    pass the smoked
    almonds and honey
    lemonade – and no
    i don’t want to change

    my shorts i say
    as i line shells across
    the dash

    this is the way we share

  12. Karen King says

    Beach Trip

    Young legs
    Ache from jumping the waves and
    Chasing pillaging gulls
    and counted times
    Stickiness of the sea
    Sand stuck to every wetness
    Raised sores from the man o’ war
    Pickled skin from days long sun
    The perfect little seashell
    Sitting stoic on my dressing table
    At the nursing home

  13. Karen King says

    For the Sea

    Your surf rubs smooth
    The defined edges of my memory,
    Washing away what it once was.
    Polishing between salt and sand
    the broken shards of glass
    I press between my fingers,
    Wishing for blood and pain
    To bring me back.

    The salty air stifled my breath
    As I watched his body bend to the surf
    Break upon the rock.
    Littered sea floor with
    crushed shells and bones,
    a mollusk or a child,
    worn and washed
    In endless tides they lay.

    The surf wears upon me now
    Rubbing the creases of my brain smooth,
    Your reprieve from my sanity
    Those waves of blood that incessantly,
    rhythmically wash through my body
    as your tides pulse under the moon.
    I gave my salty tears back to you.
    Drown the pieces of him with those.

  14. Marcy Terwilliger says

    “Broken Seashell” written about five years ago.

    I am a seashell,
    Beautiful and shiny.
    My life is on the ocean’s
    Floor as I dance around in
    The clear blue sea.
    Sun shines on my day after day,
    Sand is cool on my shell.
    I am happy living in the sea.
    Rolling around here and there,
    No one to bother me.
    One day the sky grew dark,
    Sun went away and the ocean
    Floor turned dark while winds,
    Above me pitched frightfully.
    Waves roared,
    Suddenly, I lay upon the shore.
    Upon wet, cool, sand,
    The sky above turned bright.
    Sounds around me,
    Suddenly I’m in deep, dark pain.
    Oh No, I Cry!
    I’m just pieces scattered in the sand.
    Waves roll over me, yet they don’t,
    carry me back out to sea.
    Oh can I go on, I lie here broken.
    Waves pass me by,
    Sun bakes down upon my soul.
    I’m alone, Is this the end?
    Glisten, no, not anymore,
    No hope, only pity for a broken soul.
    Sun is sitting,
    Day is gone.
    No one seeks me out,
    Will my pain ever cease?
    Where are the souls to help.
    The broken shell like me?
    They left this world long ago,
    Way ahead of me.

  15. Marcy Terwilliger says

    Revised Version of “Broken Seashell.”

    I am a broken seashell,
    Washed up from the floor of the ocean.
    Here I lie bleeding on the cool,
    Wet, summer sand.
    Time was once when I was whole,
    Beautiful, but no more.
    Now I lay broken in pieces,
    Far too many to count.
    People walk by and crush me even further,
    They step upon my frail heart.
    Can’t they see it’s still me?
    Look people, look it’s me,
    I still need you.
    Can you see my broken heart?
    Can you feel my pain?
    Don’t you even care?
    Time, don’t talk to me about time,
    Right now I need something for the pain.
    Parts of me are gone,
    Broken and gone.
    Washed out to sea,
    That dark bottomless pit.
    I’m never going to get them back.
    They are gone forever.
    What do I need?
    I need someone, yes someone,
    To make me whole again.
    God, my Holy Father in Heaven,
    Are you still there?


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