The pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles believed that all the
Organs evolved independently, at first. So, picture them, those lone parts:
Lungs, hearts, tongues – should we think of hands in teams grabbing hold of ears, teeth and lips?
Or did he just say, ‘Hey, hagfish. They’re basically guts, aren’t they? Mouth>tube>arse.
What if that’s how all of it started, and worms and slugs and that are, sort of,
Leftovers, still looking for bodies to be a section of?’ Incomplete.
And perhaps that’s why it’s hard to feel for them:
How’d worms end up as just
Guts? Come on, get it together, guys. There’s still a lot of crabs, spiders and similar
Which would make good hands, and bonier things, eels and what have yous: snakes and skinks
To give you some backbone and, while we’re here, I also reckon that they could make
Decent limbs, too, not just tails but arms and legs as well. Shouldn’t be too hard…
[Me, Promethean, wiring nets of coral with molluscs and sewing lengths
Of lampreys into a patchwork of veins and nerves, until]:
My new stitched fish
Creature heads out to blend in with the rest of us, joining in, a little
Hesitant, not sure what to make of what it’s heard, what hearing is at all,
Now the mob’s all here to hear reports of a thing that wobbled
Horribly into the marketplace. “Wait, lads”, I say, “I know him or her
Or… you know, I didn’t think to ask but, whatever it is, it’s just like
Us! Haven’t any of you read Empedocles?” Socrates is shaking
His head and Plato is nodding as the older man says, “The oracle — ”
(We’ve all heard this bit, mate, get on with it!) “— all I want to say is that I
Know that I know nothing, but we all know the gods know that that thing has to
Die. And die soon.” Well. The hagthing has now staggered up to the agora
Using its weird eel legs but here it fails, cracks,
falls and splays, the animals
Taking off each way: crab hands scuttling into the laurel trees; a snake that
Was the spine swallows whole the fluttering bird heart as it struggles free
Of the ribs. I’m weeping, scraping and fumbling through the mass of flesh. “Fellas,
Come on, now”, I choke, as mussels and muscles slip through my hands. Socrates
Has shut the fuck up for once and it’s echoing now in the agora,
Hisses and croaks from the separating creatures that once were one creature,
Leaving the hagfish, which ties itself in knots, exuding pints of hagfish
Slime, which it’s left squirming alone in. I was right, it is very hard
To feel for it, or what I feel is biting hate, not how I’m meant to feel
When I’m faced with Nature in its glory, its sublimity! Just this
Hideous worm — fish — thing! “I tried to help you, man!” I say, and raise my boot.
Frank Podmore was born in London (UK) and is still there and alive at time of writing. His poetry has been performed at the Wigmore Hall as part of the Voiceworks Project and he won the Freshers’ Writing Prize in 2015. His comedy writing has been broadcast on BBC Radio.