I usually love writing ‘How To’ instructional poems, they can be a great excuse to get a bit surreal. I’m sure a ‘How To Be An Otter’ poem would have gone to a happy place, had I not clicked on an otter anatomy site in my research and been indelibly scarred by pictures of dissected sea otters killed by ingesting crude oil from a tanker disaster. I am not giving you that link, people. It also made for a slightly angry poem.
How To Care For An Oiled Otter
First, put aside any notion that otters swim,
agile and unblemished, through an ocean
pure as tempered starlight.
Pollute your vision with plastic frags,
run-off, effluent, and the crude suppuration of oil
bleeding out of smashed tankers,
venting from mismanaged seabed hellmouths.
Don’t like it? Suck it up.
Tar patties will clog your sentiment until
finally it sinks in – your buoyancy
is fatally compromised.
Now you are ready for the work.
Dip-net for speed, Kevlar-gloved
in case they break open caustic-ravaged mouths
to bite, in case they have some vestige of sight.
Use the stuff-sack, the holding-box, the heat-lamp,
and wash, wash, wash, wash, wash.
Soft water makes a difference. So can you.
For two hours each otter, this is all you do,
care for something that can never
thank you or profit you or forgive
our species rendering them collateral.
And if their pelage softens and restores its guard,
if their temperature ceases its giddy rollercoaster,
if they have guts enough left unblistered to digest clams you shuck,
if you have used masks and blinds and feeding chutes
so after all of that they are still sufficiently wild,
release them, and wait for the next time.