The river otter spotted on the lawn at twilight
was only passing through they thought, their faith
in fences and the closeness of the creek a block
or so away. When morning broke the backyard pond
was stripped of lilies, marsh marigolds and rushes.
At the water’s edge, a creamsycle turned out to be
the head of the Shubunkin who’d been with them
fifteen years. Two nights later the otter killed the others,
the koi they called The Golden One,
the Black Moors, the humpbacked carp.
The wildlife officer confirmed their fears.
When the fish ran out, the otter would crack
the turtles open, the smaller female first,
then the next, wider than a dinner plate.
A live trap, he told them, wouldn’t work. Otters
were too smart for that. No, he wouldn’t use a leg-hold;
he’d set a baited cage on the bottom of the pond,
the door would drop and the otter die by drowning.
We’ll get back to you, they said. After the second raid,
they’d been so angry, so bereaved, they’d talked of ways:
rat poison—they had some in the shed—a rifle and a jacklight
though someone on the street was likely to complain.
“I’ve never killed a living thing,” she said, “not
deliberately at least, except for insects.” The murderer
inside her was as shocking as the finger bone
that met the air that time her skin split open.
“That’s because you were a girl,” he said. Every boy
he knew had a BB gun, a slingshot, and they’d used them.
They walked around the fences, filled in the gaps,
he built another gate. The otter tunneled under.
They dug a trench and poured cement. That night
they listened for the barking of the neighbour’s dog,
wished the turtles could cry out. The trapper said
the otter would thrash in the cage, it could take
a while, the claws might rip the lining. Who could bear it?
Months before, through the bedroom’s sliding doors,
she’d seen an otter reclining on the front deck.
Longer than the average man and lush—
could it see her through the glass?—its life force
so intense quills of light quivered all around it.
Fleshy but not an ounce of wasted flesh—surely it was
female, this liquid creature, gleaming as if just risen
from a bath and, indolent and vain, was posing
for a painter or waiting for a slave to fetch some herring roe,
some towels of Turkish cotton. How extravagant
and human this conceit. Would things be better
if she could see herself as otter? Feel that blast
in the blood that means a different way of being
deep inside, her body rising from a river,
a sea-run fish whipping in her grip, that shine
on teeth and tongue the pearly scales of steelhead.