Zoontological Sublime

 

Like the scientist dissecting a cow's eye

just to see the edge

of his own vision, I wanted to know

how it is to be an octopus,

which keeps 2/3 of its neurons

in its arms. It thinks

not with its brain, but with arms

that radiate around the organ

of a body pulsing like a bird

lifted from the nest.

 

For $20 I let a lab assistant

sucker my head with electrodes

surging magnetic waves

to jolt my arm up before I could

even think Up or Where did it go?

The researchers wanted new ways

to treat pain. I wanted

to circumnavigate my brain.

 

An occasional side effect: Broca's Area

and the amygdale can be swept

by the magnetic halo. I soon became very,

deeply calm. How are you doing, Kate?

the lab assistant started to ask more and more

often. I was so fine it was difficult to say, Fine.

 

Above the knot of tentacular cords

was a poster of a giraffe kissing

the head of her newly born calf.

An excessively sentimental image,

but now it was rapture to consider

how far she descended to reach,

her neck's infinite arch.

 

Sometimes lobotomies have the effect

of rendering pain senseless. In a way.

The patient can say, Yes, it hurts,

but also, I can't care that it hurts.

 

Because the octopus keeps 2/3 of its neurons

in its arms, it is genius at mimicry

and dance. There's a video of one

cursive seduction of a flounder

into that mouth of a belly.

What is pain to a fish?

I want to use the word flailed,

but you'll think of what happens

on a hot afternoon on a dry dock.

Let's try:

There is a shimmy to the swim,

a dance to match the dance of those arms,

performed without need

of the brain as the flounder's mind

follows after its own transfixed eyes.

 

Then there is the agony of a lobster's silence.

To call for each other

they must clatter their claws

against surrounding stones and shells.

The plea rings through the waves

for miles. When dropped in boiling water

they beat their banded fists

against the sides of the pot. I put the lid on,

then have to leave the room

and stuff my ears.

 

To the dumbstruck fish, pain

is an unsatisfactory spike of cold

or heat in the affected area.

The tooth in the flank burns, the octopus's clench

makes the muscles chill, then the bones freeze.

As it fights, flails, throws its head back

towards the open current, the flounder still thinks

pain only in the place of pain.

The octopus in agony is more silent still.

 

I came once upon a doe licking the face

of her stillborn fawn and that nuzzle alone

should have shattered all the leaves

and all the stars. Deer don't have

great conch shells to slam their hooves against.

The doe made no sound, the air

filled with the small ripple

of her tongue passing across

those still eyelids.

 

And then there are humans

carrying pain into the mind

where it becomes everything and entirely

ours alone. Like the graduate student

dismantling the rat, viscera by viscera, trying

to find some other way than this way.

No, you just can't know

how it would be

with neuroned arms, or how it was

when you were a beloved fish

with hardly a brain to speak of.

Did you know you had a mother

listening for your heartbeat?

There is no answer.

 

There are instead so many words. Sublime:

An old one for the pain of knowing

a vast expanse of possibility is there but can't be

grasped by your own small mind.

 

The octopus draws itself beneath a stone,

curls those legs in one by one,

and I watch it wait—I think

I'll understand something this way—

that fingernail of a sucker

poking out to think through

the current, the waves of temperature,

the spiraling salinity. In perfect

darkness and perfect silence it waits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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