California, California

Striding down Shepherd Creek from Anvil Camp
   in early morning, out of the timberline
        foxtail pine across fragrant slopes
             of chinquapin, of manzanita,

we feel the risen sun in our faces
   and see it lighting the feathery styles
        of mountain mahogany all before us,
             leathery leaves on twisted trunks

transformed into bearers of flame.
   Our feet find rhythm on the old,
.          improbable trail, raising the dust
             over shifting talus and hardened flows,

and we say in our minds, California, California.
   Behind us, at the foot of the pass,
.          a herd of deer lies dead and rotting
.               in the tail of an avalanche track,

their shanks and fur scattered across the mountainside
   by gravity, wind, and the teeth of coyotes.
        It all depends where you are in the moment,
             whether the landscape gives or takes.

And I do not know how long we will
   be saying this. But the sun
        in the mahogany styles like tongues of fire,
             the roar of the creek now far below us

in the canyon—they have been speaking a long,
   long time, and will still be speaking
        when we lie scattered across the slopes,
             dust beneath other boots and paws.

In other words, the light goes on,
   whether darkness gathers it in or not,
.          illuminating what remains,
             California, California.

                                —John Muir Wilderness


The Gathering

(Pinus balfouriana)

The foxtail pines march up the ridge
like giants bending toward their task.

There are always a few stragglers behind,
a few lonely scouts ahead, but still

they belong together, heading as a group
to a convention of foxtails in the sky,

where, on a rocky summit, they will sport
their giant nametags and shake boughs

with other foxtails who have arrived
from other ridges with grave determination.

After exchanging some business cones
and networking among their roots,

they will settle in to listen a bit skeptically
to a pair of yellow-bellied marmots

who have been chosen as keynote
speakers. Then, as the evening deepens,

special guest stars will emerge
from the alpenglow to sing the foxtail

national anthem as the foxtail pines
hold their foxtail branches over

their foxtail hearts. Not one of them
will want to leave, but in the morning

they will slip back down the ridge,
a bit hung over, and take their hunched

and hardy stand as if they were immoveable,
as if they could not walk at all.

                                      —Sequoia National Park


Paul Willis has published six collections of poetry, two of the most recent of which are Getting to Gardisky Lake and Deer at Twilight: Poems from the North Cascades, both from Stephen F. Austin State University Press.  Individual poems have appeared in PoetryAscent, and Los Angeles Review.  He is a professor of English at Westmont College and a former poet laureate of Santa Barbara, California.