The name, perhaps, of every creature,
not just this one-in-a-crowd of small blue faces
at my feet on the edge of an April campground.
Even the syntax sends us back to those forgotten
but who never wished to be. Not “don’t forget me”
but, rather, “forget me not,” like someone
out of Hamlet or the King James version of Job.
And, notice, not stated in hope but in fear.
“Remember me” would imply some expectation
of follow-through. But the plaintive appeal
“forget me out” assumes the flower is not worthy
of remembrance, and if not remembered,
not known, and if not known, hardly
to have existed at all, hardly to have had a self.
In my freshman year of college, once a week
I tutored a boy in the basement of a downtown church.
His face was the beauty of dark chocolate.
Once we went on a camping trip and found
a raccoon and her litter in the hollow of a tree.
When night came, he did not want to return
to that hollow. At the end of the year,
after our last session, he said, “Do not forget me.
Don’t forget me.” His name was Clayton.
I’m pretty sure his name was Clayton.
—Ross Lake National Recreation Area
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.