For Natalie Diaz

OCTOPUS REJOINED

Today I heard Natalie Diaz read (author of When My Brother Was an Aztec) and was utterly spellbound, blown away, taken out of whatever place I was in (flu-ridden and foggy-headed) and transported into story and pain and sorrow and silent contemplation.  She talked about her process, and I kept thinking about the octopus.  In the ocean, the octopus delights me, jetting its arms out through a blue sky, surprising me when it emerges, a whole alien shape in a terrain I only thought I knew.  In the world, the octopus terrorizes me, its tentacles remind me of a white friend in my writing program who surprised me when they stopped calling me socially because I had called out white privilege in a classroom full of white people (of which he was one).  He said that it was expecting too much to ask him to say something as well because he was still learning.  He said that I was too intense.  So instead of learning how to talk about race, which was no good for octopi spotting (a paramount skill), I learned to be gentle so that the octopus would only bother me when I was alone.  I am scared of gangs of octopi – the ones that sit on the ocean floor.

 

 

I’m not the kind of girl who would go put a stick in the octopus’s lair.  The octopus is everywhere.  I first saw its shade when I wondered why people could never pronounce my father’s name correctly, or why before he died, he complained that everything tasted so bitter, so foreign.  Perhaps his tongue was caught by an octopus’s mouth, which may or may not be pink and have sharp teeth inside.  His business partner was an octopus that appeared out of nowhere, although they shared two countries — flailing out at him when he had cancer, and dissolving their partnership.  This attack happened before my father could understand what was ripping into him.  I think he fell without knowing that he was falling because the octopus tripped him with a lazy suction.  He hit the ground and shattered into a million pieces. 

 

The stuffed octopus with a smile that stretches to every side of its oval can be won at the circus, and I always wanted to go on a ride with her at the boardwalk, but she was terrified of the octopus and its million babies that would surely spit at her and then float away into the night sky, like umbrellas whose broken frames rise disjointedly, and dance like synchronized swimmers, one arm, one leg, many arms, many legs. 

 

Tonight I sit alone, in the deep, swallowing sand and waiting for my time to come.

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