I Am That Penguin
by Jeff Santosuosso

When he treks the tundra, slips and falls,
tummy toboggans,
cliff-climbs with stubby legs and flailing wings;
when he follows the flock and distant sun
to reach the home in the hollows,
familiar crags and ice meadows;
when he leads his chick,
anticipating fledge,
as if he pulled that “SOLD” sign out of the front yard
his wife cradling their baby in the doorway,
I am that penguin.

When his mate finds him after the call
and respond
of avian monogamists;
when he briefly shares throat caresses
before she takes the egg from his feet;
when the warmth of her bulging belly incubates
while he spasms in hunger from a feedless winter vigil,
and he plods in agony to the bounty of water
to dive, to swim, to stretch, to eat;
when he feels as free as forgiven by his father;
I am that penguin.

When he huddles for hours at the edge of the flock
wind howling
from the end of the earth to his back,
beak buried under his neighbor’s wing,
feathers matted down in defiant survival;
when his webbings fight freeze
with feeble blood,
as he endures his boss’ brickbats,
needing the work and the pay,
I am that penguin.

When he nudges at the blackened egg
cold as the stones beneath,
when he prods with his beak,
breathing desperate breath on the passive hull;
when it rolls heavy and jagged on a pitted black shell;
and comes to rest there forever, just nearby;
when he gazes on it as if his dog just died
in his arms;
I am that penguin.

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