A shell lay in the sand,
bone white temple,
its contours echoed those of the pagodas
glimmering in the distance.
I scooped the shell into the palm of my hand,
entranced by the sandstone streaks and purple spires dotting its surface.
Its mesmerizing facade never betrayed
the haunting voices that lurked inside.
It was only when I scrutinized it,
peered inside its opening,
pressed the conch against my ear,
that I could hear those voices.
Burrowed inside the shell,
the ocean’s susurration was a mother
begging her child to flee in the dead of the night
before their village was burned to the ground.
It was the weeping of a family,
staring at the charred, skeletal remains
of their house and possessions and life,
their existence singed to ash.
It was the chattering of children’s teeth
as they pressed their bodies together
on the packed dirt floor of a refugee camp,
rain tearing into their tent and into their skin.
The voices tumbled into my ears,
snaked down my arms, and coiled round my legs
until I was drowning in this requiem of sadness.
I wrench the conch away from my ears,
silencing the voices, burying them in a cobwebbed crevice of my mind,
removing myself from that haunting misery
I place the conch on my bookshelf in my room.
Years later, when I look at it,
the first thing I remember is my family laughing on that beach.
The voices still wail inside.
Harini Sethuraman is a senior at Singapore American School with a penchant for making up her own word definitions and using them as if they are correct. This has frequently backfired. This breaking of convention is also what draws Harini to poetry. Poetry backfires less often for her. Having lived in Singapore her whole life, exposed to a melting pot of cultures, Harini’s work examines the ways we interact, and sometimes don’t, with the diversity of lives and circumstances surrounding us.