Winter 2000, Volume 17.2
Paul J. Willis
Paul Willis is a professor of English at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. He is the author of two novels, No Clock in the Forest and The Stolen River (Avon Books), and a poetry chapbook, Poison Oak (Mille Grazie Press). His poems have appeared in Poetry, Wilderness, and Best American Poetry 1996 .
Getting Outdoors at the Conference
In Reno it is winter still. The arboretum
has a scruffy time of it, stunted
spruce and maple leaves balled up
Only the cottonwoods sprawled
bare in the creek look
bold and at ease; Civil War gravestones
stand at attention in cold gravel, a windy
parade ground overlooking the lit city.
Oz, someone called it today,
wonderful from the outside, whitewashed
tombs that glow in the gathering dark, clouds
pushing over the Sierra Nevada, bellying up,
limbs reaching down from the sky, eager
to cast their crystal dice.
One morning the hamster
was gone, just after the news
of your leaving. We feared the frayed
cords behind the stereo, a nest
in my slipper, the smell of death.
Still, the search by dust and knee
and little lights. In closet crevice
your bright eyes, the quivering
whiteness of your chest.
Ready or Not
Read all you want—it won't
do you any more good
than it has to. Same as when
you tried to kiss your cat on the lips
in kindergarten—she only
went along with it because
you'd been eating tuna fish.
Anything you think you have
learned has come to you
by accident, including
this poem. Too late
to stop now. You're it.
I look down on what may be the Sierra's largest parking lot,
valley of asphalt, desert of Olympic spirit, basement floor
for elevators cabling into mountain meadows. Up here,
granite slabs exfoliate in clean white sheets. So might
pavement gently slip away some night, knowing its place,
seeking out a new beginning, shattered talus, lower ground.
From the Devil's Environmental Dictionary
1st. Law of Property: Land, once stolen fair and square, cannot be stolen back.
Oregon Plan: Creative "partnering" between State and Federal agencies and local landowners to create a complex figleaf to cover the fact that the State lacks the will to enforce the Endangered Species Laws. If one wishes to establish nationwide restoration schemes based on the principle that "Crooks Know Best," it is extremely helpful to get a liberal Western Democratic Governor to pilot one for you.
WinWin (From the old English word "winnan" to fight): A negotiating strategy urged upon environmentalists by their opponents, who seldom practice it themselves, to ensure activists "loselose" and are grateful for it. — Jim Britell, "Devil's Environmental Dictionary, Part 1," http://www.britell.com/use/use15.html