The Octopus Jar by Charlie Bondhus


…your dreams at night will
be as strange as the jars of octopus you saw once in a fisherman’s boat
under the summer moon.
                                                -Robert Hass



Out past bedtime,
a sticky-fingered child searches
rowboats for neglected spoils when
he spies the jar,
contents twisted
like a complex dream.


Heavy-eyed stevedores drink brown
beer from clear glasses
in the harbor front tavern,

while a couple who’ve just met
make out on the pier,
making use
of eight, writhing limbs.


Drawn by a damp,
fishy smell
a seagull
pecks at a cracked jar
of cut tilapia,
hungering not for the salt-lapped glass,
but the spongy insides
pink with organs.


Off the coast, sailors
on a merchant vessel howl
in eight distinct octaves.

Their lips shiver,
like the thrumming
of the engine through the hull.


The sleeping psychoanalyst dreams boneless
dreams that slither
into and over each other—
a tangle of eight
extensions scrunched
beneath brine-stained glass.

He wakes, stumbles to his desk, writes:

“Eight arms stoppered
into a jar indicates
the secret body
with its drift and ramble,
its unexplainable appetites,
its slick, snaking halls.”


A madwoman sits in the plum
darkness, translating
the tide’s iambic language.


The stars drop their glassy light
on the sill, where
a voyeuristic cat
with eight lives to go,
casts inscrutable shadows.


An old woman walks the moon-wet
beach, her footprints bisecting
the interlocking loops
a child
drew with a stick.



Read A Poet in Conversation(s) With Art by Jessamyn Smyth



Charlie Bondhus’s second poetry book, All the Heat We Could Carry, won the 2013 Main Street Rag Award and the Publishing Triangle’s 2014 Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. His work appears or is set to appear in numerous journals. He is the Poetry Editor at The Good Men Project (