American Life in Poetry

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.

Midnight Snow

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 also is supported by the department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Introduction copyright 2014 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 2004-2006. Unsolicited manuscripts are not accepted.