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Blue, Green, Red and Purple: Penguins II

Betty Collins was inspired to write this poem after reading words written by Australian performance poet Geoff Goodfellow.

Please do visit Geoff's Web site

I read Geoff Goodfellows’poem ‘Beware of the Penguins’ last night –
and then I couldn’t sleep.

My penguin never showed me a leather strap
My penguin never strung me up by my ear
My penguin did not say I was bad: oh no
My penguin said I was good and clever –

and then,
when I was six,
she took half the Grade Ones to hear them read their homework –
and set me at the other end of the classroom with the rest of the six year olds


Dolores Gallagher’s mother was plump and rosy-cheeked
Her eyes sparkled laughing Irish blue
Her hair was like burnished coal
And she always had a baby on her hip:

Dolores Gallagher was pale and pasty thin
with grey stick insect legs and scrawny arns,
and pale red-rimmed eyes under wispy hair

Dolores Gallagher’s mother always had three or more plump cherubs
With mischievous eyes and snotty noses
Weaving round about her sturdy legs and slippered feet:
“Don’t be late, Dolores”, she’d call –
“Hurry straight back, I need you at home!”

And our Protestant mothers gathered us well-scrubbed youngsters
and marched us off to school. We did not really understand Dolores.


My penguin explained that it was my Duty to hear each child read:

And My Bounden Duty before God,

Where this reading was so poor that it showed carelessness and a lack of preparation

To Report To Her Immediately.


Ah Dolores! Would that I had not been such a moral coward.
Would that I had been bold enough to have suffered the fires of hell forever
And had told a lie, that important lie, that said your reading had been perfectly prepared.

Instead I am haunted forever by your pale, dull, stricken face,
The sharp edge of the ruler coming down cruelly into your shrinking palm

How could you understand
that you could be condemned at home if you did,
condemned at school if you did not,

And your betrayer,
One of your own kind,
A little girl
Who seemed
Just like you.


Long long afterwards I heard that your name means ‘sorrows’.
But I knew it already most keenly then.

Long long afterwards they told me
That the moral trap is the cruellest of all.

But already I knew it
knew it
knew it
knew it
the tolling of the bell beneath the dark lake.

And that is why I understand why Geoff Goodfellow avoids the penguins in the Zoo.

And maybe why I preferred to be at the bottom of the class after that.


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