Hundreds of Purple Octopus Moms Are Super Weird, and They're Doomed

                                         I'd like to be under the sea
                                         In an octopus' garden in the shade.
                                         —Ringo Starr

The article called it “a spectacle.” More like a garden than a nursery: 
hundreds of purple octopuses protecting clusters of eggs 
while clinging to lava rocks off the Costa Rican coast. 
I study the watery images: thousands of lavender tentacles 
wrapped around their broods. Did you know there’s a female octopus 
on record as guarding her clutch for 53 months? That’s four-and-a-half years 
of sitting, waiting, dreaming of the day her babies hatch and float away. 
I want to tell my son this. He sits on the couch next to me clutching his phone, 
setting up a hangout with friends. The teenage shell is hard to crack. 
Today, my heart sits with the brooding octomoms: not eating, always on call, 
always defensive, living in stasis in waters too warm to sustain them. 
No guarantees they will live beyond the hatching. Not a spectacle 
but a miracle any of us survive.

More by January Gill O'Neil

Early Memory

I remember picking up a fistful 
of sand, smooth crystals, like hourglass sand 
and throwing it into the eyes of a boy. Johnny
or Danny or Kevin—he was not important. 
I was five and I knew he would cry.

I remember everything about it—
the sandbox in the corner of the room
at Cinderella Day Care; Ms. Lee,
who ran over after the boy wailed for his mother,
her stern look as the words No snack formed on her lips.
My hands with their gritty, half-mooned fingernails 
I hid in the pockets of my blue and white dress.
How she found them and uncurled small sandy fists.   

There must have been such rage in me, to give such pain
to another person. This afternoon, 
I saw a man pull a gold chain off the neck
of a woman as she crossed the street. 
She cried out with a sound that bleached me. 
I walked on, unable to help, 
knowing that fire in childhood
clenched deep in my pockets all the way home.

The Rookie

America under the lights
at Harry Ball Field. A fog rolls in
as the flag crinkles and drapes

around a metal pole.
My son reaches into the sky
to pull down a game-ender,

a bomb caught in his leather mitt.
He gives the ball a flat squeeze
then tosses it in from the outfield,

tugs his cap over a tussle of hair
before joining the team—
all high-fives and handshakes

as the Major boys line up
at home plate. They are learning
how to be good sports,

their dugout cheers interrupted only
by sunflower seed shells spat
along the first base line.

The coach prattles on
about the importance of stealing
bases and productive outs

while a teammate cracks a joke
about my son’s ‘fro, then says,
But you’re not really black…

to which there’s laughter,
to which he smiles but says nothing,
which says something about

what goes unsaid, what starts
with a harmless joke, routine
as a can of corn.

But this is little league.
This is where he learns
how to field a position,

how to play a bloop in the gap—
that impossible space where
he’ll always play defense.

On Being Told I Look Like FLOTUS, New Year’s Eve Party 2014

Deep in my biceps I know it’s a complement, just as
I know this is an all-black-people-look-alike moment.
So I use the minimal amount of muscles to crack a smile.
All night he catches sight of me, or someone like me, standing
next to deconstructed cannoli and empty bottles of Prosecco.
And in that moment, I understand how little right any of us have
to be whoever we are—the constant tension
of making our way in this world on hope and change.
You’re working your muscles to the point of failure,
Michelle Obama once said about her workout regimen, 
but she knows we wear our history in our darkness, in our                         patience.
A compliment is a complement—this I know, just as the clock
will always strike midnight and history repeats. This is how
I can wake up the next morning and love the world again.

Related Poems

The Average Mother

The average mother loses 700 hours of sleep in the first year of her child’s life; or, what that first year taught me about America.

 

Most of us favor one side when we walk. As we tire,
we lean into that side and stop moving in a straight line—
                        so it takes longer to get anywhere,
let alone home.

                        In wilderness conditions,
            where people don’t know the terrain,
a tired person might end up leaning so far into one side
            they’ll walk in a circle rather than straight ahead.

It can kill you, such leaning
                        —and it can get you killed.

                                               
                                                Rest helps.

                                                                        I told my husband,

I walked in a circle in my mind but you came out okay.

                        Initially, he asked me to clarify,
            but then he let it go.

Who wrote that first If You Lived Here You’d Be Home by Now sign? 

                        It seems I’m going to have to move.

            I am tired and also sick
of helping other people in lieu of helping myself.

                        Rest now.

It's really not that bad: we’re in the home stretch.

            That’s the mind of a parent.
Relentless optimism in the face of sheer panic
                                                                        and exhaustion.

Morning Song

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I'm no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind's hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat's. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

Translation for Mamá

What I’ve written for you, I have always written
in English, my language of silent vowel endings
never translated into your language of silent h’s.
               Lo que he escrito para ti, siempre lo he escrito
               en inglés, en mi lengua llena de vocales mudas
               nunca traducidas a tu idioma de haches mudas.
I’ve transcribed all your old letters into poems
that reconcile your exile from Cuba, but always
in English. I’ve given you back the guajiro roads
you left behind, stretched them into sentences
punctuated with palms, but only in English.
               He transcrito todas tus cartas viejas en poemas
               que reconcilian tu exilio de Cuba, pero siempre
               en inglés. Te he devuelto los caminos guajiros
               que dejastes atrás, transformados en oraciones
               puntuadas por palmas, pero solamente en inglés.
I have recreated the pueblecito you had to forget,
forced your green mountains up again, grown
valleys of sugarcane, stars for you in English.
               He reconstruido el pueblecito que tuvistes que olvidar,
               he levantado de nuevo tus montañas verdes, cultivado
               la caña, las estrellas de tus valles, para ti, en inglés.
In English I have told you how I love you cutting
gladiolas, crushing ajo, setting cups of dulce de leche
on the counter to cool, or hanging up the laundry
at night under our suburban moon. In English,
               En inglés te he dicho cómo te amo cuando cortas
               gladiolas, machacas ajo, enfrías tacitas de dulce de leche
               encima del mostrador, o cuando tiendes la ropa
               de noche bajo nuestra luna en suburbia. En inglés
I have imagined you surviving by transforming
yards of taffeta into dresses you never wear,
keeping Papá’s photo hinged in your mirror,
and leaving the porch light on, all night long.
               He imaginado como sobrevives transformando
               yardas de tafetán en vestidos que nunca estrenas,
               la foto de papá que guardas en el espejo de tu cómoda,
               la luz del portal que dejas encendida, toda la noche.
               Te he captado en inglés en la mesa de la cocina
               esperando que cuele el café, que hierva la leche
               y que tu vida acostumbre a tu vida. En inglés
               has aprendido a adorer tus pérdidas igual que yo.
I have captured you in English at the kitchen table
waiting for the café to brew, the milk to froth,
and your life to adjust to your life. In English
you’ve learned to adore your losses the way I do.