“Danger Island” by Sally O’Brien

Sally O’Brien


But did you hear about the penguins?

They saw the snow stained pink with krill
from space. Remember learning that word
“krill” at seven, reading about whales?
Remember smelling the ambergris at the
museum, trying to picture the albatross
in polar waters, the stove boats, the ends
of the earth stained with oil and blood?
A hundred feet in chalk, the length of
a blue whale, drawn on the sidewalk—
remember how it seemed so vast?
and how could it, when the world and
your own heart are now so cramped?

Did you hear how they counted the million
penguins with a drone? They had to warm
the drone in their jackets like a living bird.
As you hunch your shoulders against the
wind, streets treacherous with half-frozen
meltwater, do you think of the penguins?
Do you picture them in a throng, hunched
over chicks who chirp like songbirds, warm
and reeking of krill? Do you wonder at how
desolation can contain such multitudes?

You have been trying to make space within
you for the desolation you teem with—chicks
peeping, their little bodies always crawling
toward the jaws of seals. You heard you can
use your body to make space in your heart.
When you circle your awkward limbs under
water at the pool, do you compare yourself
to the penguins, graceful under the ice as
swallows in flight? when you expand with
each breath, can you see the archipelago
from space? can you see the penguins?

from Poets Respond
March 11, 2018


Sally O’Brien: “This week, scientists published a paper about a previously unknown ‘supercolony’ of 1.5 million Adelie penguins off the coast of Antarctica. I don’t watch TV news much anymore because it just gets to be too sad, so I didn’t hear about the discovery until someone told me about it. I was enthralled; the story made the world seem huge again, like it had when I was a child.” (web)

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