KEEPING AN EYE OUT Once we’re under way, the river guide remarks, It’s been a banner year for bodies. I found two boozed-up college boys who flunked the test on hypothermia, then a rookie kayaker wrapped around a boulder, neat as a Christmas bow. If we spot another, I’ll put it in tow, unless you object…. He brandishes an extra coil of rope, Eagle Scout of fresh disaster. Though we came separately, our shudders school like fish. A blue heron arrows in ahead of us, skimming the water like an Egyptian god trolling for souls. The Colorado crooks a finger and beckons us around a bend. And there, a doe and her two fawns wade in, untroubled as we fumble for snapshots. Relief unfolds like the float between rapids. But I can’t help asking, What happens if we find someone? And so, we earn badges in no nonsense. It should be beached on high ground and moored to a tree or boulder. Triangulate landmarks and phone it in. A shirt can mark the spot, and brush cover lends modesty and keeps the buzzards off. After bobbing up in a dead-man float, the Boston fireman who went for a swim climbs back on board, cracks a beer, and reflects, If a fire victim has been charred, it smells like a cook-out. Droplets on his pale skin prism into burn the rest of us neglect to mention. Each calm stretch, we scan the banks. Alone at the stern, one passenger trails her cupped hand under the surface, opens it and jerks it back as if the water stings. The river slips a finger through her ring which will tumble until rushing current slows, then find a bed in sediment. Past the next meander, a sandbar splits the flow. Posted like a semaphore, the waiting heron poses all our grief. We raft on by, married to the moment, trying to see just what we came to see.
Will Wells’ most recent volume of poems won the 2009 Hollis Summers Poetry Prize and was published by Ohio University/Swallow Press in 2010. His latest manuscript, “Odd Lots, Scraps and Second-hand, Like New” is seeking a publisher. Will has been a fellow at various writers conferences including Sewanee, Bread Loaf, Wesleyan and West Chester, and a previous book-length collection won the Anhinga Prize.