“Choose Your Own Adventure: The Galápagos Mating Dance” by Caroline N. Simpson

Caroline N. Simpson


You are a single woman, about to embark upon your most challenging and dangerous mission. Equipped with a libido and the instinct to bear children, your objective is to find the perfect mating ritual in the Galápagos Islands. You bravely face elaborate courtship dances, rough foreplay, and single parenting—but will you return to the U.S. with the partnership pattern that works for you?



You are a blue-footed booby.
A male approaches you
and begins to dance,
taking giant steps in place
to flaunt his turquoise feet,
indicators of his health.
If red throat pouches
are more of a turn-on,
skip to Chapter Two.

He offers you twigs and grasses,
symbols of the nest
you will build together.
Impressed, you dance too,
face-to-face walking
on a treadmill.
You mirror each movement,
a connection found
in how much you can act
like one another.
His dancing escalates—
wingtips, tail, beak
all point skywards.
When you match
his sky pointing,
the bond is sealed.
He whistles; you honk.
Even after nesting begins,
you continue to dance.
If you would rather
he stop trying to get it on,
so you can focus
on being a mom,
skip to Chapter Three.

You both incubate the eggs,
taking breaks only to hunt.
While you are off to eat,
he strays from the nest,
dances the booby-two-step
with other females,
but when you return,
he comes back immediately.
If you prefer a partner
who can abstain
from flirting with others,
go to Chapter Two.

Your family stays together
six months, one season.
Once the juvenile leaves the nest,
you both move on to new mates—
no empty nest syndrome for you.
If you prefer a partner
to grow old with,
rekindling the romance
once the kids are gone,
skip to Chapter Six.



You are a great frigatebird
soaring above a sea of males,
fishing for your mate.
If you prefer he
be the one to choose,
skip ahead to Chapter Three.

He perches in a bush,
having spent twenty minutes
inflating his throat pouch
into a red balloon.
When he sees you,
he loses control,
spreads his wings,
erupts in a shrill cry
and a fit of head-shaking,
the bloated red throat waggling.
It is not the size of the sac
that gets your attention,
but the nesting spot he chose.
If the quality of his nest
is not how you shop for lovers,
return to Chapter One.

You are impressed.
You alight between
his spread wings.
He wraps one around you;
the match is made.
You are seasonally monogamous,
but it might be two years
before your parental duties end,
and you can move on.
If a two-year commitment
gives you reason
to doubt your choice,
because it is the size
of the throat sac that counts,
return to the beginning
of this chapter.
There are many more
fish in this sea.



You are a Galápagos giant tortoise,
watching two males fight for you—
up on their legs,
stretched necks,
gaping mouths.
The smaller one retreats;
the victor claims his prize.
If you find dominance displays infantile,
skip to Chapter Six.

The foreplay is rough.
He rams his shell into yours,
nipping your legs.
He awkwardly mounts you,
stretching and tensing
his neck and legs
to stay balanced.
The queue of males behind you
must wait two hours
for this fellow to finish up.
His concave belly
atop your convex shell,
you fit together like spoons.
He hoarsely bellows and grunts,
groans rhythmically atop you.
If you prefer softer, sweeter sex sounds,
skip to Chapter Six.

Six hours later,
you complete copulation
with the last male in the queue.
You are exhausted,
but the hard work is behind you.
Once you lay your eggs
in a nest hole filled with urine,
you leave the sun
to do the incubation.
If you prefer more active parenting,
with both of you involved,
jump to Chapter Six.



You are a waved albatross.
Courtship is an elaborate dance,
a series of displays repeated
in different orders until perfected—
bill circling,
sky pointing,
shy looking,
drunken swaggering,
bill clapping.
Multiple males approach you
to show off their moves,
but the dancer
with grace of carriage
and youthful spring,
he who can make
even a complicated choreography
distinct to see,
is the one who attracts you.
If you prefer a simpler
yet equally engaging dance,
refer to Chapter One.

You are partners for life,
living into your late thirties.
When your chicks hatch,
you put them in small nurseries
while you both go off to hunt.
If you prefer one of you
stay home with the kids,
return to Chapter One
(but be careful—
it’s a recipe for adultery).

Each year after months apart,
you return to the island
where you first met
and dance again.
If he can’t find you immediately,
he is unfaithful.
If you prefer to be the adulterer,
skip to Chapter Six.



You are a Galápagos sea lion.
You bask on the beach
with girl friends
while your bull swims
up and down the coastline
barking long and loud
at any males near his harem.
If gifts are more
your language of love,
return to Chapter One.

He has been so busy
defending his territory
that he has not eaten in weeks.
He is exhausted,
and his sexual performance
has declined.
You watch the bachelors
he chases away
swim to a beach
down the coast.
When he is not looking,
you sneak off underwater
to visit the bachelor colony.
Young, horny, strong,
these males are everything
your bull is not.
With satisfied libido,
you return to the harem,
your absence unnoticed.
If sexual satisfaction
is an important determiner
in your choosing a mate,
return to Chapter One.

One year after conception,
you give birth to a pup,
synchronized with other
newborns in the harem.
Your babies grow together,
napping and learning to swim.
After a few weeks,
you mate again,
but your primary role is mother.
You tend to the pup
for three years.
In that time,
many bulls come and go,
leaving your children
and closest girl friends
the most important
beings in your life.



You are a Galápagos hawk.
You soar through skies
screaming kee-kee-keeu,
but when you find a mate,
your call softens
to kilp-kilp-kilp.
You breed year-round
whenever the feeling
comes over you,
a few times a day
on a perch or in flight.
Your partner is monogamous,
but you sleep around—
up to seven males per season.
If you cannot handle
the emotional complexity
of an open relationship,
refer to Chapter Four.

Even with your promiscuity,
the commitment to him
is for life.
You use the same nest each year.
He stays close to home,
helping to incubate,
even feed the chicks.
The nest is never left
to fall apart.
You both add new twigs,
switching out old materials
with new and better ones
until it is four feet across.
If a bigger, better house
is not important to you,
and remodeling is not
how you want to spend
quality time together,
return to Chapter Five.



You are a single American woman
on a vacation cruise
in the Galápagos Islands.
He is an Ecuadorian sailor
working on your yacht.
The dance begins at the airport
and escalates on the boat—
lingering eye contact,
up-down eyebrow flashes,
kissy lips,
“muy guapa,”
waist squeezing,
hands brushing calves,
entering your cabin
to touch you all over.
The courtship dance lasts
several days in secret.
If he is caught by the captain,
he will be fired,
arrested by the police.
If secrecy is not a turn-on,
return to Chapter Five.

After four days,
you meet him
late at night above deck.
You climb down
the back of the boat
into the engine room
for the culmination
of the mating dance.
The next morning,
he dismisses touch,
avoids you for two days.
On the last day,
he pursues you again—
calls you wife,
expresses sadness
for your leaving.
As he drops you off
at the airport,
your eyes remain locked
until you can no longer
see each other.
If you prefer less push and pull,
a more consistent mating dance,
return to Chapter One.

You arrive at the end
of your Galápagos adventure.
If you have yet to find
within these chapters
the perfect partnership pattern
that works for you,
stay on the islands.
Revisit the chapters.
Unlike previous animals,
you can easily hop
between adaptations.
Stay longer in some chapters
and skip others altogether.

Or if several adaptations
are of interest to you,
and you would like them
all in one chapter—
a sexually satisfying,
monogamous, lifelong partner;
the sharing of parental duties;
an exciting courtship dance
that lasts for life;
and a community of friends
to raise your children with—
close this book.
Continue to evolve.

from Rattle #60, Summer 2018


Caroline N. Simpson: “My experiences living and traveling abroad are a great source of inspiration for me. Seeing my world through the lens of another culture—or in this case, animal species—is at the heart of my work. When visiting the Galápagos Islands, I was struck by how each species stuck to one mating style, yet humans have adopted a myriad of ways of partnership. When writing, I embrace questions, and through my pen, let the mystery propel me. From penning this poem, I discovered that I am still on the islands, revisiting the chapters, hopping between adaptations.” (web)

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