Post Road Magazine #26

Penguins

Meg Kearney
John Winter, who sailed with Francis Drake to Patagonia in 1578, described penguins walking 'so upright, that a farre off man would take them to be little children.'
    —from 100 Birds and How They Got Their Names

They looked like little children
standing upright on the shore
the sailors said, still at sea.
All were hungry under that frozen sun.

Standing upright on the shore,
a cluster of fathers and their chicks—
all were hungry under that frozen sun
waiting for the mother penguins' return.

The cluster of fathers and their chicks
didn't see the sailors land—
waiting for the mother penguins' return
they'd survived brutal nights, furious blizzards.

They didn't see the sailors land
(axes, knives, and clubs in hand);
they'd survived brutal nights, furious blizzards,
the razor claws of polar bears.

Axes, knives, and clubs in hand
the sailors made quick work of slaughter.
The razor claws of polar bears,
wolves' teeth—nothing had ever slain so many.

The sailors made quick work of slaughter.
How many dead penguins could a ship hold?
Wolves, polar bears—nothing had ever slain so many.
What haunts sailors' dreams: penguins, huddled on shore.

How many dead penguins a ship can hold!
the sailors said, back at sea.
What haunts sailors dreams: still huddled on shore,
penguins look like little children.


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