Paul Willis (Ph.D., Washington State University) is Associate Professor of English at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. He is the author of two wilderness fantasy novels, No Clock in the Forest and The Stolen River (Avon Books, 1993), and of a poetry chapbook, Frog at Midnight (Pretty Good Press, 1992).
Meeting Like This
Ten years ago my brother sat firm
in a wheelchair on a logging road
to get in the way of a pickup truck.
(This was in the Kalmiopsis.)
Dave Foreman stood poised beside him.
The pickup gunned around my brother
but pushed Foreman back on his heels.
Back and back and back on a run
until he tripped and the truck braked
on top of him. The crew piled out
and called him a dirty Communist,
said he got his money from Russia.
Then the sheriff arrested Foreman
and let the crew, the law-abiding
road crew, pass.
Last week my brother hunkered
in the bow of an oar boat deep
in the shade of Hells Canyon.
(This was on the Snake River.)
Dave Foreman sat poised behind him.
Spring water ran high and strong,
and the boat flipped on the first class 5.
There in the rapid, the clashing boulders,
they both got wrapped in a loose line.
It almost drowned them, or maybe
They enjoyed their reunion, they said.
It's okay to be run over by a river
on her way to work.
At a bend in the trail I suddenly see
how many flowers are going on.
Yucca, dodder, yerba santa.
And writhing among them in heat and dark
the leopard lizards, the quail, the king snakes,
vying to live in the afternoon.
I know now that I hardly know.
They have been here all along;
they will be here when my footsteps die.
The earth has a fullness: it is like
the pollen-clogged legs of a bumblebee
in purple sage.
Our children are shouting down in the creek
under a blackening net of alder.
Behind us in the oakstrewn meadow
six burros stand and stir. Their bells
send random, homely notes
into the earnest hush of the stream.
Through the leaves, up and away,
chaparral rises to sandstone cliffs.
It is dry and far and open up there,
desperate and sharp, but now
the harshness is put to rest.
And the ridge runs on and on and on.
Mission Pine Spring
on gold-silver leaves and acorn shells
I look at moon
hung, gibbous, in live oak.
on soft spread needles
I look up at stray flung arms
of sugar pine.
If they should drop
sharp cones to my lips?
In gurgle of spring,
chanting in meadow
their medicine song.
How long that song,
If they should return?
And bear whose paws
left prints on the path—
if she should come?
She would chant
the medicine song in the meadow
while I smile a pinecone smile at moon
on ancient ground.
—San Rafael Wilderness
Late and Soon
The sycamores rise along the creek
like tall white sorns of Malacandra,
unearthly in their budded splendor,
but rooted in this dawn, this day,
this muddy ground. It is we
who are not earthly enough,
who limit the reach and rise
of the eye to height
and depth of screen and structure.
What separates us from these
shy trees so lovely and solid
and naked among us?
Our unwise love for the works
of our hands, and our love
for the works of the works of our hands.
As if works shall save us.
Let them rest.
Let us plant our hands
beside the stream and hold
the soil until our legs
shoot upward, upward,
into the mist. They will split
their seams like last year's bark.
They will reach and curl
in knots and ankles.
Come spring, our hair
will grow down into the earth,
and we may feel new
sprouts of wisdom
in topmost toes.