Rich Furman


A fisherman saves a penguin from rotting oil, cleans him up, heals him. The penguin, instead of returning to the sea, stays with the man. They become best friends. Then after eight months, the penguin disappears without warning. The fisherman, both heartened and heartbroken, prays for the best, the penguin now with his own kind, finds whatever the penguin version of love might be. And then, after a year of quiet tears and wondering, the penguin appears to the human he loves. They embrace and play in the sea, and each year thereafter, he returns, from who knows what distance and hardship, to frolic with the overjoyed human.

My lover walks in, just at the moment the video ends, asks me if I am all right. It is her birthday, so I tell her that I am. But she, being she, looks through me; I burst into tears. She closes the door, and I tell her about the man and the penguin, and how I am uncertain if I identify with the man, or with the penguin, or just long for something that would last and that nothing has ever lasted. This is not what I wish to spill to my lover on her birthday, expose my brokenness, still, two years after tossed, like a dead carcass, into the sludgy oil of divorce.

But she listens, assures me, gives a bit of space for me to sob. Both dogs on my lap, neither has moved for a couple of hours, and I need to believe that they feel for me as the penguin does for the man. The penguin and the man, if this story exists, spun for social media, a sugar tit, as Bukowski once wrote, a once-upon-a-time for small children trying to feel safe in the world.

The man will die. The penguin will die. These dogs will die despite my double and triple checking doors; filling multiple water bowls to the brim, just in case; teaching my lover’s four-year-old the art of gentleness and attention.

I do not recommend divorce; it is not for the tender hearted, the wounded, those who spent years cleaning the wound of another. And so it would follow, I do not recommend marriage, and backing it up further, love. Families.

The man will feel broken, irreconcilably. The penguin will feel broken, to the degree to which penguins can feel such. My lover may leave or stay but I will always feel as if she, she, she, she already has left.


Rich Furman is the author or editor of over 15 books. These include a collection of flash nonfiction/prose poems, Compañero (Main Street Rag, 2007), The Immigrant Other: Lived Experiences in a Transnational World (Columbia University Press, 2016), Detaining the Immigrant Other: Global and Transnational Issues (Oxford University Press, 2016), and Practical Tips for Publishing Scholarly Articles (Oxford University Press, 2012). His poetry and creative nonfiction have been published in Hawai’i Review, Coe Review, The Evergreen Review, Black Bear Review, Red Rock Review, Sierra Nevada Review, New Hampshire Review, Penn Review, Free Lunch, Colere, Pearl, The Journal of Poetry Therapy, and many others. He is professor of social work at University of Washington Tacoma, and also teaches in the gender studies program and a course on writing the self in the freshman core. He is considered one of the pioneers of poetic inquiry and explores the intersection between the creative and expressive arts and autoethnography. He is currently studying for his MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Queens University Charlotte.

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