All of my students are writing now,
seriously bent to their work, pens
tracing uncertain terrain
of graffitti-topped desks, writing about—
what was it I asked them?—their sorrows,
of all fantastic things. As if I cared.
Oh, I do, professionally speaking.
And it is my profession to make
my interest personal. I learn
their names—for a term, at least—
and slowly nod when they come
to my office confessing their pain.
But when the door clicks shut again,
when they take their lights of gloom and go,
I put what they have said in a file,
close the drawer, and touch my fingertips
together to make a series of triangles—or,
in the case of the thumbs, a perfect spade.
Paul J. Willis is a professor of English at Westmont College and the current poet laureate of Santa Barbara, California. His most recent collections of poetry are Rosing from the Dead (WordFarm, 2009) and Visiting Home (Pecan Grove Press, 2008). He is also the co-editor of the anthology In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare (University of Iowa Press, 2005).