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POETRY by Paul Willis

By November 16, 2006 No Comments
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Paul Jonathan Willis
after Charles Harper Webb

As in the Apostle Paul, of course–
a big name, though the word means little.
I’ve always found it hard to pronounce,

hard to fit that l on the end, as if it were the paw
of a cat that couldn’t scratch her signature.
But evangelicals like Paul better than they like

Jesus, given the fact that Jesus told confusing stories
but Paul excelled in the prototype of the three-point sermon.
I am not too good at either, which would make me

more like Jonathan, that Horatio to David’s Hamlet,
the selfless supporter, tending a little toward co-dependence.
Horatio was left to tell the story, at least what Fortinbras

would allow, but Jonathan went down with the ship
fighting next to his father, Saul, against Matthew Arnold’s
Philistines, which was Paul’s name–Saul, that is–

before he changed it, something I would never do.
A friend of mine now calls me Pauly, who knows why,
but her husband recently hanged himself, and she

seems to need some terms of endearment in her life.
I’ve known people who change their names like leaves
in autumn, from Kathryn to Kate to Katie, just like that,

and a boy at the high school legally registered himself as
Trout Fishing in America, in honor of Richard Brautigan.
Where it all ends for me is Willis–son of Will, I have heard–

a British name, good for a guy who teaches
in an English Department, though at least half of me is German.
“Hey, Willis!” they say to me, and I like that, a last name

that could be my first, rising from what Paul the Apostle
regarded as the ends of the earth, that place
where his gospel was going.

My Words

are like this sea spread out
in preternatural calm or storm

that sycamore that stirs or sheds
its handbreadth leaves

a poppy bloomed or withered
in an orange distress.

What I say, I say to you
in season and out.

Paul Willis is a professor of English at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. His first volume of poetry, Visiting Home, is forthcoming in 2006 from Pecan Grove Press, and his poems have appeared in Poetry and The Best American Poetry Series. Willis is also the co-editor of In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare (University of Iowa Press, 2005).
Paul J. Willis

Paul J. Willis

Paul Willis has published seven collections of poetry, the most recent of which is Somewhere to Follow (Slant, 2021). He has also recently published a YA Elizabethan time-travel novel, All in a Garden Green (Slant, 2020), and the essay collection To Build a Trail (WordFarm, 2018). He is a professor of English at Westmont College and a former poet laureate of Santa Barbara, California. His website is