Publication Date: February, 2020
Location: poetsonline.org, go to Archive, and then to ‘factoid prose poems‘.
Genesis: A couple of years ago, I read a fascinating and eye-opening book called ‘The Soul of the Octopus‘ by Sy Montgomery. The sheer intelligence and weirdness of these animals entranced me and, for a while at least, they replaced the wolf as my favourite animal. Since the summer of 2019, I’d been reading, re-reading and loving a short article in the London Review of books called ‘Consider the Swift’ by Katherine Rundell. It gave some amazing facts about these remarkable little birds, facts like they weigh less than a hen’s egg and yet fly the equivalent of five times around the Equator in a single year, doing around 2,000,000 kilometres in a lifetime. I love seeing the swallows turn up in the village every Spring (usually in late April) and marvel at the fact these tiny birds have just flown all the way from South Africa, covering around 200 miles a day. The swift is on another level again. When the prompt was given by poetsonline.org for a prose poem starting with a single factoid, I decided to weave swift factoids in with one about the octopus. By reading it out loud, you may discover a rhyming sequence that is otherwise obscured by the prose format. I hope you enjoy the end result.
A swift can fall asleep on the wing, to wake up in exactly the same place. An octopus sees with its skin; the two light-balls halfway up my face Suddenly seem primitive, even basic. I’d love to see with my whole body surface! Peep round corners with the tips of my fingers. Use the top of my head to gaze up into space While the back of my neck keeps a check on who lingers Behind me, out on the mean city streets. And as the octopus glides through her watery realm, the swift stays in the air for months at a time; some never land at all and, by flying proud, Bathe in the mist in the midst of the clouds.