Image by Simon Hollington

Elvis the Performing Octopus

Polly Clark


Elvis the Performing Octopus

Polly Clark


Poem introduction

This poem comes from something very small that I read in a book called The Noonday Demon, by Andrew Solomon, which is a book of essays about depression, and one section was about depression in animals. And there was a small reference to an octopus that was kept in a circus, and apparently octopuses are very intelligent - you can train them to do tricks. And this octopus was trained to do tricks in a circus, and when they closed the circus down, he was just put in a tank and no longer rewarded for doing these tricks and became very depressed. And in the end performed all his tricks one last time and then stabbed himself to death with his little beak, which was a horrible story, and so I wrote this poem for him. I've called him Elvis.

Elvis the Performing Octopus

Elvis the Performing Octopus

hangs in the tank like a ruined balloon,
an eight-armed suit sucked empty,

ushering the briefest whisper
across the surface, keeping

his slurred drift steady with an effort
massive as the ocean resisting the moon.

When the last technician,
whistling his own colourless tune,

splashes through the disinfectant tray,
one might see, had anyone been left to look,

Elvis changing from spilt milk to tumbling blue,
pulsing with colour like a forest in sunlight.

Elvis does the full range, even the spinning top
that never quite worked out, as the striplight fizzes

and the flylamp cracks like a firework.
Elvis has the water applauding,

and the brooms, the draped cloths, the dripping tap,
might say that a story that ends in the wrong place

always ends like this -
fabulous in an empty room,

unravelled by the tender men in white,
laid out softly in the morning.


from Take Me With You (Bloodaxe Books, 2005), © Polly Clark 2005, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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