Author’s note: “Poetry for me is often a way to write about and cope with things that are emotionally fraught, painful, frightening, things that are too hard to approach head-on. This is one of those poems. I already knew how the octopus can innately absorb the world around it and reflect it back; the New York Times story about whether an octopus could actually dream provided a perfect jumping off point to use this concept as a metaphor to convey the reality of empathy’s great beauty, and its great cost.”
Heidi the Octopus, Dreaming
“Heidi the octopus is sleeping. Her body is still, eight arms tucked
neatly away. But her skin is restless.”
–The New York Times, Oct. 8, 2019
You were floating the first time I saw you,
little-fisted and curled like a sleeping octopus
in the sea of me, the image emerging
from the deep—a pale shape on the unraveling edge
of darkness, all the parts in place, but a shadow—
just there. No one could explain. A shipwreck?
A sea monster? A shy pilgrim from outer space?
Now I know you were only dreaming.
Even then you were flexing your chromatophores,
your shapeshifting skin absorbing the world
around you and mottling it in gray, in brindled
yellow, in ringed and shimmering blue, and when
the pain became too great you could darken
like a cloud passing over the surface of the sea,
become shadow, mantle a crab and eat it
with no one seeing. The mirror of empathy
is skin laid open. Deep beneath the wounds
that pulse an otherworldly red against
the razor gray of the seafloor, you endlessly
render your mosaic of unnamable shades,
your wondrous reflection of ambient light,
as one tendrilled arm seeks another, and another—
even when you dream, even when you hide,
even when you struggle to love this knife bright sea.
Wendy Mitman Clarke’s poetry has been published in Blackbird, Rattle, Little Patuxent Review, Summerset Review, Delmarva Review, Blue River Review, and MUSE/A Journal. She won the Pat Nielsen Poetry Prize in 2015 and 2017, and her poem “The Kiss” was a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her nonfiction has been published in River Teeth and Smithsonian. Her novel Still Water Bending was released in October 2017. Website: www.wendymitmanclarke.com.
Delmarva Review publishes compelling new poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction selected from thousands of submissions annually. The independent review is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit literary publication supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council.
The 14th annual review is forthcoming in November. Most editions are available from Amazon.com, major online booksellers, and from regional specialty bookstores. Website: DelmarvaReview.org.
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