The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Sunday and Breakfast with the Penguins

Sunday Night
By Sharon Olds

When the family would go to a restaurant,
my father would put his hand up a waitress's
skirt if he could -- hand, wrist,
forearm. Suddenly, you couldn't see
his elbow, just the upper arm.
His teeth were wet, the whites of his eyes
wet, a man with a stump of an arm,
as if he had reached behind the night.
It was always the right arm, he wasn't
fooling. Places we had been before,
no one would serve us, unless there was a young
unwarned woman, and I never warned her.
Wooop! he would go, as if we were having
fun together. Sometimes, now,
I remember it as if he had had his
arm in up to his shoulder, his arm
to its pit in the mother, he laughed with teary
eyes, as if he was weeping with relief.
His other arm would be lying on the table --
he liked to keep it motionless, to
improve the joke, ventriloquist
with his arm up the dummy, his own shriek
coming out of her mouth. I wish I had stuck
a fork in that arm, driven the tines
deep, heard the squeak of muscle,
felt the skid on bone. I may have
met, since then, someone related
to one of the women at the True Blue
or at the Hick'ry Pit. Sometimes
I imagine my way back into the skirts
of the women my father hurt, those bells of
twilight, those sacred tented woods.
I want to sweep, tidy, stack --
whatever I can do, clean the stable
of my father's mind. Maybe undirty
my own, come to see the whole body
as blameless and lovely. I want to work off
my father's and my sins, stand
beneath the night sky with the full moon
glowing, knowing I am under the dome
of a woman who forgives me.


We got up early Saturday on an insanely hot July day -- the county sent out an emergency heat advisory in the morning, and Baltimore reached 100 degrees in the afternoon with a heat index of 110 -- to go to Breakfast with the Penguins at the Maryland Zoo, which we've done each year for the past five years. It's always fun to see the penguins, though the ambassador penguin whom we got to pet last year was extremely cranky, having been yanked out of the pool and dragged in a cat carrier to perform; she bit the hand of the volunteer taking care of her, so petting was out of the question and even photos were dicey. The penguins on Rock Island weren't happy about the heat either and ate few of the fish we threw to them, though the cormorants in the exhibit were more than happy to dive after the food. We ate very well, though, listening to the penguins squawk and honk at each other and watching them take turns diving into the water to cool off.

Adam, a zoo volunteer, and the cranky penguin Ascot, who had to do ambassador duty since her sisters were moulting.

As in previous years, we arrived bright and early, before either we or the penguins were fully awake...

...and were served eggs, waffles, sausages for the carnivores, potatoes, pastries, fruit, orange juice, and lots of water since it was already nearly 90 degrees.

Many of the penguins were swimming, but the cormorants gobbled up most of the fish we fed them. The zoo staff explained that because it was so early and so hot, the penguins were just not that hungry.

This moulting penguin appeared to wish for air conditioning as much as we did.

The visiting adult humans were given coffee mugs as souvenirs while the kids were given stuffed penguins. Some of the adults managed to beg a stuffed penguin, too.

Kids also got to practice catching fish like a penguin would.

These are the two youngest penguins currently at Rock Island -- sisters who preferred each other's company out of the 50 or so penguins living there. More photos of the breakfast are here.

Of course, since we were at the zoo, we visited nearly all the other residents, starting with the African animals in the same area as the African penguins: elephants, giraffes, chimpanzees, warthogs, cheetahs, gazelles, zebras, birds, and more. Then we went to the Arctic exhibit, which unfortunately is not kept at Arctic temperatures, though there is an air conditioned explorer vehicle overlooking the polar bears; there are also snowy owls and arctic foxes, plus the Baltimore Ravens mascots live in this area of the zoo. We stopped for Italian ice before we went to the Maryland wilderness exhibit, which thankfully has caves, an underwater otter tunnel, and a shaded barnyard area as well as local birds, snakes, frogs, and foxes. We saw local wildlife all around the zoo as well -- frogs in the marshy area near the penguin enclosure sang to us as we ate, there was a snake near the giraffes, and a chipmunk had taken up residence in the warthog enclosure.

It was so hot that we gave up on the idea of having lunch in the picnic area at the zoo and came home for lunch in the middle of the afternoon. Adam worked on his Life in a Day movie -- I got to film him a couple of times and appear in a couple of scenes -- and Daniel needed to get in some quality Shin Megami Tensei time since he'll be working most of Sunday on his summer research project. We watched the Doctor Who season finale on BBC America, then were planning to watch a nature documentary but our PBS station had the listing wrong, so instead we watched a documentary about the history of Hershey, Pennsylvania -- how the chocolate factory built the town and how the town built the amusement park -- which was actually quite interesting considering how many times we've visited!

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