Falling in Love with the Octopus

Inky when at the National Aquarium of New Zealand. Not the octopus in this poem, but kin

This was written some years ago after I watched what’s described here on some PBS show, probably Nova. Now we have the thrilling escape of Inky to add to our understanding of octopus intelligence, and to fall in love with.

Down I went,
headlong. Why him?
He wasn’t the smart one, the one who perched
like a giant insect on the tank wall and eyed the glass jar
only a split-second before one big snakey arm
struck, scooping it up, another lassoed the lid,
and a third (still plenty to spare) clawed out the hapless crab
and tossed it down the soft but beakish mouth like popcorn.
So an octopus is a problem solver – So what?
So is a crow. So, some say, are certain bugs.
We might as well concede the whole animal kingdom
on that score. What got me was something less,
and more. All the while Mr. Smarty Pants was clocking through
his fancy mason jar routine, in the next tank my guy –
you might have thought he’d poke a tentacle or two
at his own jar, or just bobble around like a lollygag cephalopod,
but instead – he watched.  Hung five (and drifted three)
on his own tank wall, then with his ugly, alien eyes –
now I was watching, something inside me on its own
tenterhooks – followed the action next door step by step.
Then he took a breath (or was that me?), dropped down
like Spiderman and sauntered (in his ugly, eight-armed, alien way)
over to his own glass jar. You can guess the rest.
Someone else might have taken notes, thought her way through
to a conclusion befitting our sapient species. Not me.
My brain went under, no more use than the pea-brain
of some lowly mollusk. All I saw was the ocean,
all the leagues and years of it, all the ugly, lumbering life of it.
Oh, the old gray sponge flung out an arm or two,
grasping at one idea or another like lifelines – restaurants
with dipping sauce; some snappy metaphor; new legislation; God –
but then with a burp flopped belly up and sank;

Leaving only my heart to take this in, grow full with it,
in my chest hang saclike and inky with it, four chambers
blossoming to eight, vena cava and aorta and whatever else comes in
and out –
now ancient vessels, now swimming for deep water.

From The Scheme of ThingsDavid Robert Books, 2015