Leatherback [15 Words or Less]

Hello, and welcome! This is 15 Words or Less Poems, a low-pressure way to wake up your poetry brain (guidelines here), and I’m very glad you’re here.  

Photo: Laura P. Salas

I love the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History! I only had a couple of hours in it on our trip to DC, but this skeleton of a leatherback turtle startled me.

This image makes me think of several things:

  1. what would a turtle look like without its shell?
  2. its undermost bones look like a heart
  3. we are all so fragile

And here’s my first draft. 


Now it’s your turn! Have fun and stick to 15 WORDS OR LESS! (Title doesn’t count toward word count.)







39 Responses

  1. Love your warrior turtle, Laura! The strength and vulnerability so cleverly juxtaposed.

    Here’s mine:

    Spine, ribs
    Phalanges splayed
    Pelvic bones
    Shoulder blades
    Frame connection
    Close to same

    1. I love how you’ve captured our similarities, Suzanne! and how you move from the anatomical terms to the simple language in the closing line.

  2. Good morning 15-WOL community. Laura, your poem is wonderful. “Nowhere to hide” resonates with me.

    A Leatherback’s Legacy

    every day
    eyes on me
    what do they see?

    I dreamt I’d be!

    1. Oh, Martha, this makes me feel even sadder for the leatherback, who has found himself in this totally unexpected position! I like the touch of wry humor you bring to it, but it still makes me a little sad.

    2. Your poignant poem makes me think of public persona who sometimes don’t seem to find happiness with their success.

  3. Balance
    of bones
    aligned skeleton
    beating heart
    A mystical, perfect
    specimen of life.

    1. Margaret, I love the measured rhythm you find here, the feeling that all is right. “All will be well, and all will be well and all manner of things will be well,” to misquote Julian of Norwich. It’s especially comforting right now, although devastating too, as good friend lost her college-age daughter this week in a horrible accident.

  4. Break Out

    Hard shell
    covered well
    hurting heart.

    Kind word
    gave new start.

    Love wins

    1. Cindy, thanks for the “kind word overheard.” Poor turtle.

  5. Amazing that you could fit a summary of turtle evolution in your poem, Laura, wrapped up in your poignant last line. My mind went immediately to my title and this sci(na)ku followed.

    “My Parts are Showing?”

    like C3PO
    without our shells

    1. My first thought was of his vulnerability, displayed as he is. I imagined that he was partly covered with a red cloak.

    2. Wow, your poem touches on SO many things here. SF, emotions, technology vs biological, etc. I love how you worked in so much to 6 words!

  6. That skeleton is a poem on its own! Funny how it makes you think of the parts that are missing…

    Leatherback Song

    Hidden beneath its bony shell
    under ribs and spine,
    turtle’s heart beats
    an ancient song.

    1. Buffy, somehow the word “ancient” brings so much power to this poem. There’s already a contrast between the anatomical parts and the heart (also anatomical, but you know what I mean) and song, but ancient brings our history and the infinity (sort of) of life itself. Truly lovely.

  7. I like the circle of life you painted Laura. Here’s mine,
    What lies beneath
    our skin may be more
    foreboding than
    words we speak…

    1. Ooh, this is ominous, Michelle! I like this foray into the dark (literally) side.

    2. Powerful words Michelle. They make for a wonderful “quote.”

  8. Turtle Dreams

    Super-duper terrapin
    Hiding spiky skeleton
    Leaps enormous
    For a tortoise
    Leatherback but Hero in!

    by Donna JT Smith

    1. Donna, terrapin and skeleton work well together and I like the last line.

    2. I love the sounds of the words you chose, Donna. So much fun to read aloud!

  9. What an amazing creature. Your poem line “leather armor” is such a great visual! I felt like the way he is displayed reminded me of those old traveling shows fascinating onlookers with peculiar and unusual objects!

    Step Right Up…

    Come and see!
    An ossified leatherback’s
    Bones displayed,
    Shell uncovered,
    Ancient Turtle’s past

    1. Jean, that’s the way I feel when I know someone is staring and I feel as if they can see right through me.

    2. Oh, you totally set that scene with the title and first line, Jean! Love “ossified,” too:>)

  10. Dianne, you bring back the memory of my granddaughter’s wedding on the Outer Banks of NC. A nest of sea turtles began hatching prematurely and we had to move the wedding site down the beach as they roped of the area around the nest. Sweet!

  11. poem By Jessica Bigi

    Leathers Bake Turtle

    Theirs a skeleton-key in my
    duffel bag and
    ginger snaps in my bite
    and seaweed in my tea
    How could I be

        1. I guess it depends what you’re looking for in a poem or trying to get across in a poem. Whimsy and surreal just mean unexpected connections/playful/unreal images…that kind of thing! Made me think of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, for some reason :>)

  12. Oh, now I want to go to the Natural History Museum! Utah is dinosaur country, so ours (at the university) has wonderful dinosaur displays. No turtles, sadly.


    Leatherback skeleton—
    has nobody known
    the spell you can cast
    with the smallest flipper bone?

    —Kate Coombs

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