At twilight on the beach I found a shark's tooth.
After three days of looking, and then not,
I stepped onto the sand, and there it was.
It happened as I twisted loose a shoe,
impatient to shake off the week's bad luck,
and looked up to appraise the sky and sea.
There was no reason it should catch my eye.
Except for the western wall of one far building
turned by the setting sun the color of Mars,
everything I could see was shades of blue.
The tooth was small, what kind of shark uncertain.
But there it was, dangerous, big enough
in a place of such unfathomable proportions
that I could seem, on balance, not much bigger.
It pointed at me from my open palm.
Was it an omen? The sky was getting darker.
I had been waiting patiently for something.
I held it in my hand, and I forgot it,
and dark-blue pelicans plied the dark-blue water,
where I could read the future of that sky.
A searchlight scanned the heavens and found the heavens.
The waves grew quiet. For a moment, foam
crackled like faraway applause. Red lights
blinked on the pier, which lay down lower beneath
a purple Asia of dissolving cloud.
The light grew eerier and eerier,
and, slowly, the horizon disappeared.
Since then, I've found my way back every year,
and I have searched for hours, both day and night,
from when the first soul comes to stare and stand,
made taller by her reflection on the shore,
until the tranquil miles of cool sand lie
dimpled with shadows, twenty thousand footprints,
only disturbed by my feet shuffling toward
the yearly-more-immaculate parapet
of sea grapes slowly darkening. And often
I hold my shark's tooth like a sort of charm,
a talisman to ward off superstition
and, through the one small stray coincidence,
bring sharply to my mind the thought of countless
coincidences that will never happen.
Each year, once more, I pass the place I found it.
I see it on the surface of the sand,
three or four paces from the wooden stairs,
where people made attentive by long views
pass by all day; where it had sat inside
the spreading shadow of a chirping dune
two minutes' walk at low tide from the water,
farther up than Poseidon normally rides;
where I might spend my life and never find one
poised on a peak between two child-sized footprints,
like a gift, or like bait, held out to me.
Accepting the Disaster
Farrar, Straus and Giroux