Shell by Martin Willitts Jr

A half of an acorn shell — skull cap,

or devastating news to a young boy —

lay buried in the garden. A squirrel hid it,

a secret no one tells. Useless as a clipped

azalea someone forgot to put in water. A part

of an object is better than nothing.

Perhaps, it will be the spare to another item.

I saved spindles for chairs in case I broke one.

It was obvious that the better part, the soft inside,

was scalloped out, like an oyster from a clam.


I hoped the doctor removes all my friend’s cancer.

Both breasts were gone, envelopes of desire and milk,

and concave was better than no person. The weather

was overwhelming with bad reports; she felt a shell

of her former self: less than before, but still alive —

more desirable than the cruel alternatives.


She chattered on the phone about every day events,

avoiding going deeper, under the skin of worry.

Squirrels scold this way. I gripped a chair hard enough

to rip it apart in two. Her chemotherapy arms

were thin spindles, bony. If I blew on them

like lit matches, harsh as a capsizing storm,

would she scatter like flushed petals?


A shell can look like angel wings, or lungs,

or hands asking for more time, all spindly

flanges in an x-ray, trying to hold her breasts

supple, in place, knowing they will be excavated,

vacated, drained. She informed me the cure

was almost as bad as the cause.


You’ll never know when a day ends,

or extends, or is operated on, or if showers last, or

if you will be able to do everything you wanted to do.


Martin Willitts Jr won the Turtle Island Quarterly Editor’s Choice Award, “The Wire Fence Holding Back the World” (Flowstone Press, 2016). His most recent full-length is “Dylan Thomas and the Writing Shed” (FutureCycle Press, 2017).