'An otter slaps the water with his paw to feel the current's pulse'
James Crews, now living in Vermont, was for a couple of years our assistant here at American Life in Poetry. He came to us having already won the Prairie Schooner book prize, and his poems have gotten better and better, something all poets wish for. Here's a lovely poem from How Light Leaves, from FutureCycle Press, that shows us how we can relate to the "other" in the natural world.
by James Crews
Outside in the creek that feeds the lake
and never freezes, an otter slaps the water
with his paw to feel the current's pulse —
Slip in, lie back. Slip in, lie back. He shuts
his eyes and obeys, knowing the layers
of hair and underfur will warm him while
he floats on a faith we wish could carry us.
The sound of his splashing fades, but not
his joy in being pushed, light as driftwood,
back to the mouth of the den I have seen
carved out beneath the roots of a fallen fir
now packed with snow and lined with leaves
that promise his sleep will be deep.
Because no dreams wait softly for me,
I open the woodstove and strike a match,
hold the bloom of the flame to kindling
that catches quick as my wish: To be that
slick body sliding into the lake that holds
the moon, bright portal to glide through
without so much as a shiver, no doubt
about where I'm going, how to get there.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2016 by James Crews, 'Midnight Snow,' from How Light Leaves, (FutureCycle Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of James Crews and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2017 by the Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-06.