This holiday penguin poem needs a bit of an explanation:

Each year, Tony “Fat” Yaniz and Becki Balcer deck out their home with inflatable penguins. Over the years the tradition has grown and become a popular stop on the annual Christmas light tours. 

At the end of the holiday season, sometime around the Spanish holiday of Dia de los Reyes, the Feast of the Epiphany, on Jan. 6,  the couple hosts a “deflation party,” where guests celebrate the birds’ return to the Southern Hemisphere.  Penguin costumes are encouraged and visitors play “Taps” on kazoos while Balcer unplugs the enormous birds. 

The tradition began humbly, at the Florida City Walmart, Balcer recalled. 

The pair spotted a box in the Christmas section that was turned so only the Spanish language side was showing. It read “Pinguino Gordito.” They couldn’t resist and a tradition was born. Pinguino Gigante soon followed Pinguino Gordito. And the rest, as they say…is Key West history.

Becki Balcer and Tony ‘Fat’ Yaniz started an inflatable penguin tradition years ago for the holidays. One fat little penguin was soon joined by dozens of others, including a towering, gigantic penguin, who will join the flock at the corner of Flagler Avenue and Fifth Street as soon as the wind dies down. BECKI BALCER/Contributed

‘Twas the night before Dia de Reyes at Casa Pinguino
where out in the yard, Becs and Fat sipped their vino
The penguin decorations had been inflated with care,
in hopes that Pinguino Gigante soon would be there.

Publix was closed, everybody was home,
The bars had all shuttered, there was nowhere to roam.
Becki in loungewear, and me in a guayabera,
had just clinked glasses to welcome a new era.

When out on Flagler things went amuck,
I fell out of my chaise, exclaiming, “what the [email protected]#$?”
Away to the street I flew like a flash,
spilling my wine and dropping my stash.

The Christmas lights shone on the asphalt outside
giving the look of a rainbow-hued tide,
when what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a 20-foot boat and eight tiny Key deer.

With a black-and-white bird leading the way,
I knew in a moment it was Pinguino Gigante.
Quick as jet skis, his Key deer they came,
and he brayed and bellowed and called them by name:

“Now Splasher! Now Diver!
Now, Fisher and Chicken!
On, Conch! On, Cuzzy!
On, Bubba and Blitzen!
To the top of the palms!
Out past the squalls!
Now dash away! Dash away!
Dash away all!”

Fast as a barracuda, steady as a shark
they plowed ahead and stayed on their mark.
Past the inflatables, the Key deer they flew,
with a boatload of goodies and Pinguino Gigante, too.

They pulled to a stop right next to the pool
prancing and pawing and acting a fool.
Becki came running and yelled out to Fats,
Then Pinguino Gigante tumbled out with a splat.

He was covered in feathers, snowy white and black as ink.
I took it all in, while needing a drink.
His eyes, how they twinkled! His feathers, how slick!
His beak was bright orange, his neck a bit…thick.

His chest and flippers were an elegant suit;
Black, white, and undeniably cute.
He had a thin face, and a little round belly,
Plus a waft of dead fish, but nothing too smelly.

He was chubby and plump, this avian elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
His wobbly walk, best described as a waddle,
was much like myself when I finish the bottle.

He spoke not a word (because he’s a penguin), but got right to work,
unpacking gifts, then giving a smirk.
Becki stood wondering, drink in her hand
at Pinguino Gigante and a spectacle so grand.

The Key deer kicked dust and sprang into action,
their magical Contender quickly gaining some traction.
Then away they all flew, back to much colder climes,
to places with more krill and fewer key limes.

He disappeared into the hot humid night,
but I heard him exclaim, as he drove out of sight,

“Squawk, squawk, squawk, squawk, squawk!”

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Erin gets to flex her creative muscle as Artistic Director of the Studios of Key West but has also completed a graduate degree at Harvard, served as a National Park Service Search and Rescue volunteer, visited all 50 states, rescued a 300lb sea turtle, nabbed the title of Key West Ms. Gay Pride, and gotten involved with Special Olympics. She says yes to pretty much everything. Luckily her wife, daughter and crazed terrier put up with this.