Paul Willis


What the Wind Blew into the Canyon

A photograph of a pair of black Labradors
standing guard over a child.
Palm fronds past the point of praise.
Thick peels of bark from a streamside grove

of eucalyptus.  And eucalyptus buttons, blue.
Start times for a district track meet.
A memo to the physical plant, requesting signs
(not wonders) for the campus spiritual institute.

Shriveled olives among the knees of olive trees.
Broken limbs of coast live oak.
Class notes (sociology).  A grocery list
(half-and-half).  A receipt for gas (premium).

Vacant bags of tortilla chips, of sunflower seeds,
of fertilizer.  Clif Bar wrappers.  Water bottles.
A Starbucks coffee cup, with cap.  A single strand
of barbed wire that disappears into the ground.


Vine Maple (II)

                                    (Acer circinatum)

Who would have guessed it?
    Your little honeysuckle flowers,
thrown to the wind
    to spell the sweetness
of your leaves,

tiny sheaves
    that harvest the fleetness
time has finned
    through all the airy, watery hours.
Who could have blessed it?         

                                     —Ross Lake National Recreation Area                       


Bridge Creek Trail

                                      (Pteridium aquilinum)

As if they have been lynched by winter,
brown corpses of bracken fern
hang limp from the bare branches
of slide alder.  The snow just left.

Greening and blooming underfoot
are the upstarts: wood violet, glacier
lily, salmonberry, bleeding heart.

But the dangling, desiccated
bodies want to be heard. 
We were here, they would say—
last summer, we grew head high. 
Just because you are living,
they will come for you.

                                    —Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Paul Willis

I am a prayerful Christian who likes to hike and look around. On the campus where I teach I have created two miles of trail and spend several quiet hours a week keeping them clear. This, for me, has become a meditative practice. Two years ago I had the joy of serving as an artist-in-residence in North Cascades National Park.  My wife and I were married near Santa Cruz in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

Paul Willis is a professor of English at Westmont College and a former poet laureate of Santa Barbara.  His most recent collections of poetry are Say This Prayer into the Past (Cascade Books, 2013) and Getting to Gardisky Lake (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2016).  Individual poems have appeared in Poetry, Christian Century, Verse Daily, and Writer’s Almanac.  

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