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Paul Willis (August-September)

-Poems by Paul Willis

  Poems by Paul Willis
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Poems by Paul Willis


The Great Chain of Being


Here in the burnt sugar bush,

in the thickets of oak, we are safe again.

It is like that for the smallest

creatures tucked into the chaparral.


Wind moves topside, but here

below is cathedral calm.  Put your eye

to the ground and see sequoia

halls, canopy over crumbling sandstone.


That fence lizard scattering leaves like

loose fire across the ground was once

a breathing dinosaur, settling its weight

among ferns reaching into the stars.



A Likeness

      (Quercus agrifolia)


Live oaks and elephants, the gray

curled skin, hard-shifting shanks

and knees.  These trees


never forget what they take

from earth, what they give back.

Birds land on their heads all day


and bask in sky till fog

rolls in.  Then thick feet lumber

and stand while darkness falls,


trunks lifted up to the moon.


Low Water


The creek finds pool and pool without

the intervening falls, without the rapids,

appearing and appearing in its dark

and stricken silences. 


Capillary sounds beneath the stones

decide the question of continuance;

dry crush of bay leaves and of sycamore

perplex the canyon, salt and powder



Sandstone boulders wait in muted

flesh, as they so often do.  They were rolled

here once and will be rolled again—

they know and yet believe they will be

rolled away from glassy mouths,

from autumn tombs. 




This evening we are awash in light.

    It buoys the mountains as if they have finally

        found their proper medium, their true home,


as if only now the peaks and ridges

    and chaparral have come to the surface

        and are free to look around, to take in air,

            to catch us up in their respiration.


If only we could bathe ourselves

    in light like this the whole year through.

        Could we survive, amidst so much joy?


This evening is the highest tide,

    the crest of possibility.

        All ships come in:

            hulls sleek, sails shining.




I am the heart of an oak,

the core, the center, the eye

in the dark target of rings.  Far

from the sap, I go it alone—

no need to eat and drink,

to feast all day like new

wood under the bark.  Excess

of youth is far in my past; I am

established now, the mainstay

of those frivolous branches

flitting about overhead.

When storm comes, they'll

by God wish they were back

in here with me, chair pulled up

to the fire, book in hand, a good

pipe all winter long.  I hear

them snapping away like twigs—

the sound is muffled, pleasant

from this inner distance.  I puff, I

turn another page.


Red, White, and Blue


In early March, the toyon berries hang

in embers, fading under pale explosions

of ceanothus—a froth, a kindling,

winter offering itself to spring.


We walk beneath their intertangling,

unsure of this season in our lives.


Then overhead, a scrub jay passes

suddenly from bough to bough,

for that one moment hidden

in its own allegiance to the sky.



A Story of Hands


Our hands, say the Chumash,

were supposed to be coyote paws.


Coyote had won the argument

of who would provide that part of us.


At the last second, lizard,

who had been very quiet,


reached out to touch the white

stone of our creation in the sky


and left his print.  That’s why

our hands are lizard hands.


That’s why lizard keeps diving

down into cracks in the rock.


Coyote is still wanting

to get his paws on him.


What We Have


There are still fall colors here, even in Santa Barbara:

the bright crimson of toyon berries, clustered

against the paling sky, the chartreuse mottling

of sycamore leaves and yellowing rust of bay,


of laurel.  Along each path, bleached memories

of poison oak, a hardening of its arteries

while tender grass appears behind

November rains.  And in the high folds of the ridge,


well above the waterfalls and already hidden

from the sea, the inland bloom of cottonwoods,

holding up their blazing hands

and giving all they owe to the wind.




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