Today's poem is by Nicky Beer
The lights dim. We creak in our seats.
A diver shadows the bottom of the Aegean Sea
like a ponderous yellow-footed heron
trailing a champagne wake.
Mycenaean amphorae thrust their necks
from the ashen sand, all rounding
their lips to the same vowel shape
as he plunges his glove down their gullets.
We see his fist opening rubber petals
to the camera, revealing another fist slowly
loosening itself to a walnut-sized octopus.
Nacreous and opaline, pied, rubicund,
its eyes are damn near half of it,
a livid doodle in his black hand.
Now comes the calm intervention
of the voiceoverbaritone, gently professorial,
just a touch embarrassed by the excess
of its knowledge:
One of the more unusual denizens of the coastal-Mediterranean waters is the phlo-
giston, commonly known o marine biologists as Octopus phlogistonus. While
certainly no rival to the Giant Pacific Octopus in size, nor anywhere nearly as dan-
gerous as the venomous Blue-Ringed Octopus, the phlogiston nevertheless possesses
a certain attribute which for the longest time could only be described as magical.
The camera tilts down into one
of those ancient clay mouths. We gaze
into shadow for a beat longer than
seems necessary. Then: A flaw
in the underwater celluloid. A flirt
of acid on the film. A morsel of dust smuggled
into the spool. A prank of chartreuse stipples
the black, casts a fragment of ghoul-light
on tentacles scrolled backwards. Wait a moment.
Watch again. The animal takes
small bites of the darkness, releasing crumbs
of green light into the water, dozens
of sparks leaping and guttering from its underside
with mayfly brevity.
Apocryphal evidence indicates one American soldier fortunate enough to catch sight
of the phlogiston while stationed in Naples during World War II dubbed the crea-
ture The Little Zippo
There's no crashing grandeur hereit's the private
self-sufficiency of the animal's gesture that charms us
like a lonely whistle overhead in an empty street.
And yet, drifting in its earthenware cul-de-sac,
this diminutive marine Prometheus
could not be more dull to itself:
... was discovered to be thousands of bioluminescent microorganisms inhabiting
the keratin of the phlogiston's beak. The octopus scrapes the top and bottom halves
of his beak together to rid himself of the surplus buildup. This agitates the par-
asites, which emit a faint greenish glow as they're released into the water. The
"magic act" the octopus performs is, in fact, nothing more than a bit of absent-
Which of our own human wonders may be little
more than chemical whiff,
an odd kink in the genetic helix?
The thought's enough to make us shut
our eyes, pull our ignorance a little closer,
embrace it like a mildewed doll
dented forehead, chipped-paint stare and all.
But we're still drawn to these tenebrous theaters,
lulled by the tidewhir of the projector, detaching
our terrestrial ballast as our lungs relax to airless anemones.
Perhaps the light ruptures the darkness
so that we may better know the darkness
in the palm of our own hand.
Now they're looping a scene in night vision chartreuse,
the sparks first swarming the tentacles like spermatozoa,
then rushing the lens, spawning
with the clouds of dust in the camera's beam,
silently trickling into our laps. Look
how our hands become strange
speckled cephalopods when we try to brush them away,
the knuckles arched with primal alarm, poised to flee,
to live out their own mysteries beyond our sight.
The motor shudders. We whiff cordite.
A single celluloid tentacle whips
into the air, puddles to a glossy slither.
What remains unknown.
Note: The phlogiston is an invented animal.
Copyright © 2013 Nicky Beer All rights reserved
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission
Support Verse Daily!
Home Web Weekly Features Archives About Verse Daily FAQs Submit to Verse Daily
Copyright © 2002-2013 Verse Daily All Rights Reserved