1007: To Do: Write Cephalopod Poem

1007: To Do: Write Cephalopod Poem

1007: To Do: Write Cephalopod Poem


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

This fall, I traveled the country promoting my book Razzle Dazzle, a selection of poems written over two decades, taken from five previous books, plus new poems. It was exhausting, but full of pleasures. In addition to lounging in hotel rooms, taking in cityscapes, and laughing it up with old and new friends over delicious meals, I especially loved being in dialogue with emerging writers. Some very smart and intuitive questions arose during the Question-and-Answer periods and at book signing tables, including one from a student at Johns Hopkins: when you read poems from this book, are you transformed to a younger self, like a script from the past? How do you inhabit the time between when you wrote the poem and today? Wow, okay! Let’s see . . .

The question paused me. Poets, often, secretly wish their poems to be read into the future, to transcend time, to possess perennial relevance. Putting the book together was an exercise in testing each poem’s usefulness today. Occasionally, the allusions and wisdoms gained in a poem lose their purchase on our lives.

Yet, each poem is like a talking snapshot. The experience of reading and choosing poems for Razzle Dazzle was like listening to pictures speak back to me about my old self. I laughed whenever a poem revealed my high-mindedness, felt a pang whenever a poem exposed my ambitions, and winced when painful events alluded to in poems, events I had not thought about in years, exposed my frailties.

For each reading event this fall, I put together a setlist that created a journey, an arc that ultimately shouted out, by the final poem, a triumphant I am here; I am here singing my life.

Today’s poem beautifully speaks to the notion of writing toward a future self, and understands that the echoes, even, of one’s breathing, are found in patterns of our thinking.

To Do: Write Cephalopod Poem
by Eleni Sikelianos

I write something down for my future self.
I want it to change what my self does later.
I want it to make my future self know the past thought.
Rude time has a role in this.
It’s been me-now and me-then all along
                   in a feedback loop.
Weird—the “then” can occupy a past or a future—
       (I was a child then)
       (Then when I’m a hundred I’ll hoot like an owl).
Now I’m writing, Write cephalopod poem.
Like a fish that sends itself a signal: This electrical output is from me!
       so it doesn’t get confused by another fish’s message, mistake
       itself for someone else.
I’ll read those marks later and know what to do: Write cephalopod poem.
       Or who I am, writing. I am signaling
       to myself to get organized, just like cells
       tangled up in trying to build a tentacle.

Here, I’ve written it. Cephalopod Poem. Along with everything else
going on inside you, it’s a memory
of the first chemical kisses 
not on earth, because earth didn’t exist yet
when all this kissing started.

“To Do: Write Cephalopod Poem” by Eleni Sikelianos from YOUR KINGDOM, © 2023 Eleni Sikelianos. Used by permission of Coffee House Press