Paul Willis

A Tiny Creek

Down the bend of this dry ridge,
the sound of water in a crease.
And pooling beneath a sugar pine,
among beds of wild strawberry,
a tiny creek declares itself.

I touch the bark of that fine tree,
immeasurably straight and tall,
and think of sap drawn upward
like a miracle to glistening
cones against the sky.

And I think of juices rising
into red, ripe berries,
not even an inch from the ground.
Once you get going,
no telling where you'll end up.

San Rafael Wilderness


Panther Creek (II)

Ribs of rock are smoothed
by slender hands of water.

Monkey flower and spring-green wood fern
freshen every granite seam.

Curling rapids lead the eye
down, away, to the canyon of the Kaweah,

then up again to Castle Dome in morning light,
the north-side snows of Paradise Peak.

Each place I pause, each place
I look, its own kind of paradise.

Even this flood-killed alder beside me,
bending back into the earth.

Sequoia National Park


Crystal Lake

The stove flutters
every morning, prays
below its water song.

Hummingbirds swift
through our camp
underneath the foxtail pine—

one trunk a bleached snag,
the other clothed
with dark green needles.

Our shining food sacks,
orange and blue,
depend from a granite slab.

People said there would be
many mosquitoes here,
but they were wrong.

Sequoia National Park


Great Western Divide

The first of morning on the mountains
flushes them with shame
to be uncovered from the arms of night.

The forest in the Big Arroyo
sleeps in shadow, unaware.

Between, the granite pearls
into presence, and the banks of snow
keep shining, as they always do,

little ponds in which the stars
can see themselves before they go.

Sequoia National Park


Paul Willis

As a practicing Christian, I read the Scriptures and pray each morning. Every other day I spend a couple of hours maintaining two miles of trail I have built on our college campus. As I lop, hoe, and rake—and especially as I rake—I get into the kind of zone that perhaps the Zen monks experience when they rake their gravel. Or so I imagine. Farther afield, in the backcountry, after walking for several days I start to feel the rhythm and the "there-ness" of a specific locale. It takes a slowing down and sinking in.

Paul Willis is a professor of English at Westmont College and a former poet laureate of Santa Barbara. He has published six collections, the most recent of which are Deer at Twilight: Poems from the North Cascades (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2018) and Little Rhymes for Lowly Plants (White Violet Press, 2019). Individual poems have appeared in Poetry, Christian Century, Verse Daily, and Writer’s Almanac.

More on Paul Willis’s work can be found on our Links page.

WillisHeadshot2016 333x500.jpg