I was dimly aware of the name James Williams because during this month of research various ads for his books on otters have popped up in my peripheral vision, but I had no idea he had been awarded an MBE for his conservation work, “for services to otters”.
I am slightly twisting today’s prompt, turning it from an ‘I remember’ poem to an ‘I don’t remember’ poem about James, inspired by the wonderful contributions on his memorial page at the Somerset Otter Group. What a man, how I wish I had known him.
I don’t remember James, with his cap and stick, and his little laugh.
I don’t remember him pushing down the barbed wire and legging over,
trotting back-heeled down the bank to check a turd – dog or otter?
I never ran into him under bridges, peering at dubious dark blobs
on known sprainting rocks, those infamous otter-loos he patrolled.
I don’t remember the anatomy of paw-prints he never taught me,
don’t think of eels because of him, still have no way to catch crayfish.
When I look at a riverbank, I see only the stones that are visible,
I don’t remember to follow my nose along the breeze, across the bend,
I don’t remember to see the land like a musk-talker, a scent-dweller.
Never have I bowed at his delicate request to sniff what otters leave –
“a sweet, wild, musky scent of pebbles and water weed and fish
and of the eternal untameable current”. But how I wish I had.