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From: Vol.10 N.01 – Private: The Transformative Now

On My Octopus Teacher

by Stuart Cooke
That she was an octopus.

That she would live for no more than a year.

That she was solitary, that she entertained herself with fish and shells.

That he came down to watch her. Every day, without fail. That she started to come out from her den to meet and to touch him.
That she had 2000 fingers. 

That one day she landed on his hand and, on another, followed him up to the surface.

That he was probably her only friend.

When the shark came, that he refused to protect her, that he refused to scare it away. That he felt so pious, waiting in the background while Nature tore her apart. That we felt the same way, it’s hard to watch but this is how it has to be.

That he only came to her aid once her leg had been torn off and she was hiding at the back of her den, weak and unable to fend for herself. That he offered her a piece of food in this moment.

That he worried about interfering with Nature in that moment when her life was being threatened but not at other moments, not when he put on his rubber fins and his plastic mask, not when he dived down into her world, and not when he went home each day to his house built on threatened coastal heathland.

That it was easier to watch than to stop watching, to retreat, to unmake photography, cinema, civilisation.

That in the scene before her mating she had gathered herself on his chest so he could hold her, up near the surface, gently scratching her with his finger while he breathed through his snorkel.

That sadness could be a neurosis.

That after mating, when she was half-dead, washed out of her den and getting picked at by fish and sea stars, when finally she was eaten by a pyjama shark, he said that he would have liked to scare them all away, to have held her as she died.

That he didn’t.

That he didn’t and that we want to, that I want to.

That it’s easier to watch than to be accountable for kin.
Published: April 2023
Stuart Cooke

Stuart‘s latest books are Land Art (Calanthe, 2022) and Lyre (UWAP, 2019), and he is the co-editor of Transcultural Ecocriticism (2021). He is Associate Professor of Creative Writing and Literary Studies at Griffith University.

An Australian and international
journal of ecopoetry and ecopoetics.

Plumwood Mountain Journal is created on the unceded lands of the Gadigal and Wangal people of the Eora Nation. We pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and to elders past, present and future. We also acknowledge all traditional custodians of the lands this journal reaches.