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Stunted: A Poem

Updated on October 30, 2012

Fun Stop Motion Video of Shells

Where shells get swept to sea
Where shells get swept to sea


My mouth puckers at the thought

Of a swollen-mouth shell

Your memory still stings me


Viewed on the surface

This shell is knobby

But attractive

Unique in shape

Immediately recognizable

I still yearn to touch your knobby knees

Tortured, textured skin

Peering inside this shell

Reveals an intricate beautiful world

Lightly iridescent



I enjoyed my reflection in your eyes

But here is the secret problem of the Swollen-Mouth shell

It is stunted

A conventional coiled spire suggests normal growth

But it evolved as though forgetting to coil

The large, elongated body whorl

Dwarfs that beautifully coiled spine

It is malformed, malfunctioning

I could see that you wanted to become something beautiful

But your capacity for growth was stunted by eroding mental health

This shell lives on offshore rocks

Its apex often eroded by the harshness of time

Its shell mottled with brown frustration

Grasp it too hard and its knobby body pains your hand

My heart held a too-tight grasp on your undeveloped shell

I was tossed upon the rocks of your illness

If I had not let go, we both would have ended up swept to sea

Beyond the Poem

This is a fairly fresh poem about a topic that I haven’t yet found it easy to talk about in a less vague, more open way. That’s what I love about poetry; you can explore the depths of your feelings and find a way to express yourself without having to say explicitly what you are personally going through. You need to go through it and be willing to share it but poetry can be written when the experience is still a little bit raw.

This poem is a poem that was inspired by a book of different types of shells. I was struck by how many different shells exist in the natural world. I was impressed by how different each of them is from the others but often in a small and subtle way. Because of this, the descriptions of different types of shells often made me think of different people in my life. One might be strong and resistant to pressure. Another might be fragile and on the verge of breaking. I saw each shell that I researched as its own little person, wondered what it would be like if it were given human characteristics, asked myself who it reminded me of.

In this case, the shell that I was exploring was the Swollen-Mouth shell and it reminded me of someone that I deeply loved but lost because of his inability to move beyond his own emotional or mental health issues. Like I said, I am not really ready to discuss the particulars or details with many people in my life. However, I’ve done enough processing to be familiar with my feelings about the situation and ultimately what I feel is that we both would have been destroyed if the relationship continued so the only thing that I could do was to let go. I tried to use the structure of the poem to express this in a contained way.

Swollen Mouth Shell

Swollen Mouth Shell
Swollen Mouth Shell


Submit a Comment

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    Very interesting and your final point especially is very very true. I hope you have been able to move on okay in the end. It is never nice to let go of love even when it is the right thing to do.

  • dagny roth profile image

    dagny roth 

    7 years ago from Neverland

    Very heartfelt! I too can relate as people very close to me have struggled with mental illness. The empathy is real, I have had to cut those ties at times or suffer the consequences of losing my own sanity. I enjoyed the metaphor of the shells.

  • qlcoach profile image

    Gary Eby 

    7 years ago from Cave Junction, Oregon

    I can relate to this pain here. My wife has Bipolar Disorder,but we have been married for 33 years. Mental illness doesn't have to be a curse. It is treatable and one can stabilize--find some balance. But it's all about the choices people make. Will one choose the positive and find a way to compensate for a limitation, or will one stay "stunted?" Peace and Light. Oh, hope you will check out my new poem, "What I Know" for more info. Your writing is wonderful.

  • fi fi profile image

    fi fi 

    7 years ago from Niagara, Canada

    like this poem...voted up :)


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