a pond just big enough to be a lake,
an eight-foot rowboat lurching for the sake
of newts beneath the water to be caught
in scooping, fine-cloth nets—a sorry lot
for them, but for us boys a morning’s lark.
Their backs were warty, shining, brown and dark,
their bellies a bright flash of orange below
the surface where we saw them, swimming slow.
One brother on the oars—Hold! Here! Enough!
Another on the bow, there poised to stuff
a bucket with the latest hapless prize.
(They looked at you with patient, pleading eyes.)
And one more brother, roaming on the shore,
where with the sound of pirate cannon’s roar
he hurled rocks that geysered off the stern—
our father, meanwhile, trying to make him learn
to cut it out. Till, at the brink of noon,
we beached our boat and counted, all too soon,
at least a hundred, maybe two, or more—
no telling all the newts we brought ashore.
Too many? Now, I hesitate to say
our father’s research justified the way
we robbed that pond of half its native souls
to end them in experimental roles.
But we were rich with water, oars, and shade,
with ferns and moss and maples. I would trade
those mornings for no other on this earth,
so I recall what boys and newts are worth.
—McDonald State Forest
About the Author
Paul Willis is a professor of English at Westmont College and a former poet laureate of Santa Barbara, California. His most recent collection is Getting to Gardisky Lake (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2017). In 2014 he served as an artist-in-residence at North Cascades National Park in Washington State.