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This morning, two scrub jays in a scrub oak
look out over the canyon.  The oak is dead,
enlivened only by gray-green lichen
coating the remnants of its bark.
The sumac, sage, and toyon around it
are fully green, however, with live oaks
as live as can be.
But even death
has its uses.  For what the jays enjoy, 
I think, is a naked perch.  What is left 
after life almost always brings perspective,
something like the red-tailed hawk
circling high overhead, which only needs
a blank blue pedestal of air.

Los Padres National Forest

Hear Paul J. Willis talk about the poem on the Reformed Journal Podcast:

Photo by Leon Pauleikhoff on Unsplash

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