Artifacts of Life: Dwight Okita's Lincoln Park Penguin

The Chicago Tribune calls Dawn Raffel’s The Secret Life of Objects "a personal catalog of mementos, talismans and heirlooms, all made meaningful by the passing of time." This month, inspired by Raffel's stunning memoir, we’re inviting writers and readers to share thoughts and memories about artifacts large and small that connect them to important people, places and moments.

From Dwight Okita, author of The Prospect of My Arrival:
I was at the Lincoln Park Zoo gift store, browsing the dizzying menagerie of toys on sale. One stuffed animal called out to me -- a small, furry stuffed penguin. My mother would love it. But as the penguin sat in my apartment that night, bashful beside the white lamp, I knew my mind was changing. I could not part with my new friend.

The next day, I made a full confession. "I was going to give him to you, Mom, but he's just too cute to give away."

"Oh, I have lots of stuffed animals. You keep him. I've got stuffed animals coming out of my ears!"

"Are you sure it's okay?"

"Oh, yeah. I'm sure."

And then a few years later, my mother was drinking a cup of hot coffee with whipped creme on top at Borders Cafe. She was with friends; I was not with her. They said her head tilted to one side like she was nodding off. What no one realized at the time was: she was having a cerebral hemorrhage...blood pouring into the hemispheres of her brain.

I was never able to converse with my mother after that.

Days passed without any signs she would regain consciousness. My mind searched for the last conversation I had with her. What did we talk about? It was New Year's Day. We had lunch at Ranalli's. I ordered for both of us: spinach and feta cheese calzones with black cherry sodas. Delicious. Mom was impressed with my confident food choice. "You really know how to live!" she said.

As the weeks went by, Mom's hospital bed filled with stuffed animals brought by her friends to keep her company. Dogs, cats, a stray turtle. I decided it was time to bring in the stuffed penguin and place it with its rightful owner. So that's what I did...

Don't miss the rest of Dwight's compelling story! Read the piece in full on his blog, Long Day's Journey Into Dwight. 

Dwight Okita is a poet and novelist who places relatable characters in unconventional storylines. His debut novel, The Prospect of My Arrival, has been called a "remarkable combination of innocence and irony, unforgettable, dramatic." Visit Dwight online at

Win a copy of Dawn Raffel’s The Secret Life of Objects! Share your story. We'll publish the best ten entries on our blog, and Jaded Ibis will send you the book. Click here for details.