Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Penguin Valentine

Praise the patience of a papa penguin.
I don’t envy those dark, star-lit nights
with only the occasional blush-green
current of borealis across his claws. 

See how sweetly he holds the egg close
in his brood pouch? And I am certain
his fierce tenderness would scare
even a crabeater seal five times his size. 

What exactly does the papa penguin register
in a nighttime that lasts two whole months?
During those days of no sun, does he
remember the particular bend

of his mate’s neck, what hint of yellow
near her ears? Or does he hunger for a slip
of hooked squid, worry the grand gulp of air
he must take, the concentration needed

to slow down his own heart?
Praise the faithfulness, the resolve,
the lanceolate feathers shaped like tiny spears,
perfect to poke through a cartoon heart

to signal: Valentine. And Valentine, I sing
your praises not because I know you’ll wait
for me like that (though I know you would
if you could), but because you never waver.

I don’t know how you know what direction
to look and how to listen for my return, even
when my call boils from the floor of the darkest
of arctic seas, even if, for now, all we can feel

is a cast of red crabs stretching before our path.


Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of three collections of poems, Miracle Fruit (2003), At the Drive-In Volcano (2007), and Lucky Fish (2011), winner of the gold medal in Poetry from the Independent Publisher Book Awards and the Eric Hoffer Grand Prize for Independent Books. Honors include a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Pushcart Prize. She is professor of English at State University of New York at Fredonia. 

(Photo credit: Dustin Parsons)