Cephalopod Senescence

Jan Zlotnik Schmidt

“It is a  spring, moonless night in the small town, . . . the cobbled streets silent . . . limping invisible down to the . . . crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea. […] Now behind the eyes and secrets of the dreamers . . . see the . . . the wrecks and sprats and shells and fishbones,  . . . dished up by the hidden sea.”

Under Milkwood by Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas’s town, New Quay, and the Octopuses at the Quay in Wales*


Their slick pocked tentacles

suck their way up the quay

miniature Medusas

in the crowblack moonless night


Rose blistered stippled legs

waddle up stones   wander

from the shore like fat old ladies

in the crowblack moonless night


Ballooning bodies heave

in and out   out and in

in death throes   with each breath

in the crowblack moonless night


The fishermen are aghast

What plague has crawled out of the sea

in the moonless night they ask?


Did creatures lose their way

in atmospheric upheavals, storm surges,

in polluted seas—blue and purple pellets

straws and plastic bits glistening like charms?


How did man-of-war, giant barreled jellyfish,

lose their bearings?  Pulled in by the tides

by the relentless rush of waves


Will the dolphins, too, swimming in their midst be gone?

All dished up by stinking death?

Will we all become nothing more than sprats shells

and fish bones in the crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea






*“NEW QUAY, West Wales — The poet Dylan Thomas called this the ‘cliff-edge town at the far end of Wales,’ but lately it has become better known as the place where the octopuses crawled out of the sea.”

-Rod Nordland, “Cliff-Edge Town Visited by Poets, Dolphins—and Octopuses,”

New Quay Journal, November 16, 2017


Shawangunk Review Volume XXXI Copyright © 2020 by Jan Zlotnik Schmidt. All Rights Reserved.

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