Hannah Star Rogers: A Question of Authenticity

Crimes Involving Open Water


I dreamed about you last night. We were swimming

in very shallow water—purplish like the sky can be—

flanked by an embankment, a pile of sea turtles, covered

in Holi Turmeric. As soon as I saw one, I saw one after


another and they blended yellowish into the bank. As I

went out further, they were larger in proportion


to the water depth. Then two things happened at once—

a riptide started and I saw a turtle large enough that I did not want


to be too close. So I swam parallel to the tide (touching

to remember your swim safety protocol) and back around to


where you were. You held the plastic calculator I earned

as a child and it was beeping so I was trying to help you with it.


A Question of Authenticity


You could smell them

at quite a distance.

If you weren’t from around here,

you might have thought


there were fish-trimming houses nearby,

but soon enough you would discover

the outhouses facing the beach were too small

for respectable Tarpon Bay catch.


Inside my mother leaned over

a pot of boiling mollusks:

all shades of orange fighting-conch,

all sizes of lacy murex,


from juvenile to some with purple lips.

Good shell colors, she says

watching the temperature carefully—

enough to kill the creatures inside,


but not so much as to transform

their lacquer to dull gray,

or worse, crack the bivalve hinges.

I am surprised to find all shells familiar,


pictured life-size, until I get to the notes:

the illustrations are not to scale.

In 1894, you could find a queen conch the

size of a man’s foot as far north as Sanibel.


When my mother invokes

those old boiling houses,

it is with disapproval and self-reproach,

yet that does not stop her from microwaving


a hermit crab which has moved

into a gray lightning-whelk.

She says these aren’t the real animals

who made these shells.

Hannah Star Rogers grew up in rural Alabama and received her Ph.D. at Cornell University.  She teaches at Columbia University and the University of Virginia. Her poems and reviews have appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Tupelo Quarterly, The Carolina Quarterly, Leonardo, and The Brazenhead Review. Her work has received commendations from Glimmer Train and Nat. Brut. She has received writing residencies with the National Park Service in Maine and Florida, at Djerassi Artists Residency, and at ArtHub.