three lessons from the portuguese man-of-war

by Grant Hartley

Honorable Mention, Poetry, Create | Encounter 2020


1.

The Portuguese man-of-war is not a jellyfish,

but a colony, not it but they,

an organization of organisms,

with their bodies

so enmeshed they are unable to survive

independently, detached. So

more like an army,

not just one man.

2.

The Portuguese man-of war, also known as

the floating terror,

is mess of lace and pearls,

a shock of lavender

and mauve and blues, and its sting is deadly,

even while beached,

even severed and adrift,

even dragged out

and left to die.

3.

The Portuguese man-of-war lives primarily

at the surface of the water,

sails catching on

changing winds,

but can also deflate and sink, crossing and

recrossing endlessly

the threshold of visibility,

and after sinking,

rises again.


Artist Statement:

I have long been fascinated with the Portuguese man-of-war, a beautiful and deadly sea creature which, despite often being thought of as a jellyfish, is actually a colony of creatures in a symbiotic relationship with one another. Several im- ages come to mind: in the relationship between all the organisms in the colony, I see the mystical body of Christ, in which each member belongs to the other and works together for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:12-31), in the tentacles like gathered fabric and strings of pearls I see a wedding dress of the Bride of Christ (Revelation 19:6- 8), and the vivid blues and violets remind me of another community to which I belong: the Queer community, often the recipient of hateful violence. All these images blend together as I look at the Portuguese man-of-war and, in the words of Solomon, “consider its ways [in order to] be wise” (Proverbs 6:6).

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