At dawn today, the fog still slept on the river.
The sun of a seemingly endless, Hadean heat wave
had not yet broken through, so I drove to the launch
for a paddle. Green herons, smart as sentries, patrolled
one bank. A beaver sculled beside me, blasé,
for a full forty yards, peeled branches bright in its mouth.

I thought of Emily Dickinson’s famous claim:
Several of Nature’s People
I know, and they know me
I feel for them a transport
Of Cordiality
She lulls us dull with such sentimentality,

so that as the poem concludes her chilled reaction
on coming across a snake– well, it strikes like a snake.
I tried to focus on Cordiality.
Aware of my own delusion, I willed myself
to ignore an intrepid kingbird’s pursuit of an eagle,
bully who may have succeeded in robbing her nest,

and I looked away from the cove where last summer a doe
showed floating intestines, coyotes having ripped her
just as she made her leap for salvation by water.
I stifled such things this morning, my strokes narcotic,
my breathing steady, little else coming to mind.
Back at the landing, as I walked to get my truck,

I noticed a tree frog pathetically hopping across
the stove-hot asphalt, out of its proper surroundings.
I stooped to carry the poor thing to mist-moist grass,
then suddenly saw that this was one among hundreds.
An irruption, in fact. Now what could have brought them down
from safety among the branches and leaves and bark?

If I tried to fetch my boat with the car I’d crush
countless of Emily’s “people,” no way around them.
So although I felt tired, I righteously carried my kayak
by hand that little distance and hefted it up
to the rack on my roof and secured it, bow and stern.
When I heard the unmistakable crunch of tires,

I saw what racks me tonight: four stubbled men
in a monster truck, which towed a monster boat.
Through closed windows, I heard them, rowdy with booze already.
And here I sit, hours later, old man ashamed
he did nothing to head off inconspicuous slaughter.
No, I jumped behind my wheel and sped for home,

where I write this now, feeling zero at the bone.