The Connection Between the Dark and the Light


It’s interesting that some of the people who have written what might be termed the darkest sort of literature (often poetry), are the same people who have written what might be termed some of the most fanciful (again, often poetry and/or for children).

T S Eliot is on my mind as I say this: thinking of his book Ash-Wednesday (several linked long poems) juxtaposed to his book Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (best-known musical adaptation of the poems is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats).

The connection between the dark and the light is very real.


M L S Baisch

February 2018

Purple Penguins




Here’s the first draft of the first chapter of a new project–a middle grade reader. The working title is Purple Penguins (that is sure to change). Sometimes educational/social-psychological theory just has to be commented on. This is going to be mine–although, be careful, my thesis might be different from what you expect by the time you finish reading the first chapter.





If some teacher sighs loudly, shakes her head, and says “boys will be boys”, everybody knows she means that some boy is in trouble for doing something she didn’t want him to do. And he did it just because he was a boy. Like, get real, girls never get in trouble?

Apparently girls are angels because there’s a big change that’s going to be made at school—almost as big as not singing Christmas carols, or saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Teachers are going to call kids purple penguins instead of boys and girls.

“STOOPID!” Norman mutters. He’s at the city park with his friend Jesus. The purple penguin policy—the teachers are calling it a policy to make it official—is what the two boys are talking about.

“Face it,” Norman says. “No self-respecting boy is going to want to be called a purple penguin.”

Both boys know that it goes without saying that, just as boys will be boys, girls will be girls. And that even applies to grown-up girls who you’d think would know better. Girls like to mess with people’s minds—especially boys. Even if the minds they’re messing with are their own kids’. At least Norman and Jesus can’t imagine that any guy  would ever think to call kids purple penguins. It has to be a girl thing.

“My own mother!” Norman complains. “She’s all for it.”

“She means well.” Jesus likes Norman’s mother. Besides, he’s been told not to say anything if you can’t say anything nice. Just the same, he thinks Norman is right. It is a girl thing.

“It’s hard to understand girls even when they’re our age,” Jesus admits. “Grown-up girls are probably still a lot like they used to be when they were kids. Anyone who ever liked stuff like Hello Kitty purses—or whatever it was that girls played with in the olden days …” Jesus can’t think of anything else to say.

“I know what you mean.” Norman saves him. And, he does agree with his friend. Girls are not a thing like boys.

“But they mean well,” Jesus usually has the last word in any serious discussion. For a kid, Jesus has very definite ideas. “It’s just hard to wrap your mind around some of the things girls think.”

“Says you.” Norman is far from ready to excuse his mother. She proves how out-of-touch she is with the male universe—with him—on a daily basis. If Norman did everything his mother wanted him to do, he’d have to call himself Norma. He kept that thought to himself.

“I asked Mom what the purple penguins were going to do about bathrooms,” Norman said. “I don’t think she’d thought about girls not wanting purple boy penguins in their bathrooms. STOOPID!”

“What’d she say?” Jesus hadn’t thought about bathrooms either. “I suppose you could have a picture of a purple penguin wearing a skirt.”

“Sort of defeats the purpose, don’t you think?” Norman actually sneers, which isn’t the way he likes to treat his friend. Jesus is a kid who doesn’t always get behind Norman’s projects, but he’s also a kid who’s usually right. Jesus sort of tags along and keeps Norman out of trouble. “The idea is for boys and girls to be the same.” Norman wags his head and rolls his eyes. “Besides, do you know a girl who wears a skirt to school? A fourth grade girl?”

“Hadn’t thought about it.” Jesus wags his head and rolls his eyes right back.

“Well, think about it!” Norman says, and he’s serious now. “And think about the idea that that’s the whole idea.”

“Say what?” Jesus isn’t prepared for his friend to actually be talking like he thinks the whole silly penguin thing is important.

“That’s the idea,” Norman repeats. “They want us to think that girls are no different from boys. We’re all purple penguins. When’s the last time you wore a skirt?”

Jesus was already rolling around on the ground and laughing before Norman said the word, skirt. Norman, getting into the spirit of things, began to give a flat-palm push to Jesus’s shoulder every time he could reach it. Before long, both boys were laughing and poking at one another as boys, not purple penguins, will do.

Norman was the one who pulled away and said something brilliant, “I know. Let’s start a club.”

“A purple penguin club?” Jesus sort of hooted the question out between uncontrollable snorts.

Norman only grinned at him before he punched him in the stomach. Not hard.

“Oooo. Stop it,” Jesus howled. “You’re acting like a boy.”

“I am a boy,” Norman said, punctuating the statement with one last push. “You know, boys are different from girls.” He was serious now. “This purple penguin thing has to be someone’s way to get boys to act like girls. Probably someone’s mother.” He only hoped it wasn’t his own mother. “Someone wants us not to be boys.”

“I guess that purple penguin stuff has already got into your blood stream and made you stoopid, too,” Norman says, quick to react to his friend’s mood change. Besides, he thinks Norman’s right.

“It’ll be a protest club,” Norman decides. “It will be a boys-only club where girls aren’t allowed. Why should they be? And we won’t wear purple.” Norman was getting excited about the idea. “We’ll do things boys like to do.”

“I’m in,” Jesus says. “What kind of things?”

“Go fishing. Find a place to build a club house. Play ball.” As soon as Norman thought about the games boys could play, he remembered that the school had outlawed four square. Another stoopid school rule. “We’ll find a place where they can’t tell us not to play four square,” he said. “The important thing is that we have to do things that girls don’t like to do.”

Jesus looks skeptical. “Seems to me that girls like to do just about everything.”

“Maybe so.” Norman, when he stops to think about it, has to agree. There aren’t many things that girls don’t like to do. Lots of them like to play four square.

Before Norman has time to completely think the problem through, Jesus yells, “I know! I know what we’ll do!”

“Okay genius, what’ll we do?” Norman asks.

“I am a genius! There aren’t many things that girls don’t do, but there sure are things that boys don’t like to do.”

Norman gets caught up thinking about that. “Like tea parties and dollies?”

“Stuff like that, sure.”

“And dancing and wearing skirts!”

“You got it,” Jesus says. “If we’re really supposed to all be alike, so you can’t tell the difference, we’ll just do the girl stuff we mostly don’t like to do.” Jesus kisses his fingertips and blows the kiss away on the wind.

“You think we have to wear skirts?” Norman would rather not wear a skirt.

“Skirts are probably the most important thing.” Jesus is really getting into the idea. “This will be club where we definitely wear skirts.”

“Can we wear silk underwear, too?” Norman has to be the one to push things a bit further than Jesus would want to go.

“You can, if you want,” Jesus hoots.

Both of the boys, hooting and howling, roll around on the grass, unable to catch their breath until, finally, still gasping, Jesus thinks of something. “What’s your dad think about this purple penguin stuff?” he asks.

“I don’t know. He probably doesn’t even know about it.” Norman frowns. “I haven’t seen him for awhile, but I bet he won’t like it.”

“I bet mine won’t either,” Jesus agrees. It was a safe bet that Jesus’s dad would want him to act like a boy. There was nothing girly about his dad.

“Yah.” Norman thinks about his friend’s dad and has to agree. He’s someone who runs their legs off when he’s home, who always wants them to do one more push-up or one more lap. “But your dad is in Afghanistan. You said your mom doesn’t tell him things he’d worry about. She won’t tell him about purple penguins, and she’ll tell you not to tell him, too.”

“You’re probably right,” Jesus says. “Mom only tells hims stuff she wants to tell him.”

“What about Teresa?”

“My sister? She’ll do what Mom wants.” Jesus thinks about Teresa. She’s okay for a sister. “You know, I bet we could get Teresa to help us.”

“No! This is a boy’s club, my friend.” Norman is very sure that girls are the problem, and not part of the solution.

“Think about it,” Jesus insists. “Girls probably don’t like the idea of purple penguin bathrooms, either.”

“You know that’s not going to happen,” Norman brays. It’s a stoopid thought. “They’ll find a way to make us think we’re all alike, but without making us all alike, really. They’ll have to, because we’re not alike. We’re boys, and they’re girls.”

“Who came up with this purple penguin idea, anyway?” Jesus is beginning to see that there’s more to this thing than he first thought.

“Somebody’s mother,” Norman states emphatically. “You can count on it.”

Jesus, getting into the spirit, begins to prance around on tiptoe in a circle. “Don’t do this. Don’t do that. What is it about mothers, anyway?”

“What doesn’t your mother want you to do?” Norman asks. He likes Jesus’s family a lot. In fact, he sort of wishes they were his family.

“For one, she doesn’t want me to see you,” Jesus says. “She says you’re nothing but trouble and that I can find better friends.”

Norman looks embarrassed. “Guess I knew that. Why doesn’t she like me?”

“That’s not it.” Jesus didn’t mean to make Norman feel badly. “She just wants me to stick with my cousins. There’s a lot of us here and family has to stick together. That’s what she says.”

“Did you stick together when you were in Mexico?” Norman asks.

“I think so,” Jesus says, “but it’s different here.”

“I suppose that’s right.” It’s all the cousins and aunts and uncles and the closeness that Norman likes most about Jesus’s family. “But how would you know? You were born in America, Jesus.”

“I know.”

“One thing’s for sure.” Norman decides to change the subject. “Both of our mothers are all for us being purple penguins.” Norman starts to hoot again. “P-p-p-penguins,” he howls.

“P-p-p-purple,” Jesus chimes in.

When the two boys leave the park they’ve agreed on several things. One, the club will be a secret. Two, it has to have a name, and the name has to be more original than the Purple Penguin Club. Three, Jesus will borrow a couple of skirts from his sister—she never wears them anyway—and they will put them on before they go to school on Monday. Four, since this is Friday, they have a lot of work to do to talk a bunch of the guys into joining their club.


by M. S. B. Baisch

copyright © 2104 M. L. S. Baisch

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