Otherwise the poem will never gain accreditation,
and no one will want to attend. We could ask
for a show of hands, but some of the readers are related
to the poet, and nothing surprises them anymore.
If the poem is read aloud, carefully trained monitors
could be placed in the audience to count
the number of mouths agape in stupefaction
or in slumber. How many persons are leaning
forward, eager for the next word? This is an angle
our monitors can quietly measure, pulling
from their back pockets a gathering hush
of collapsible wooden protractors.
If all else fails, electrodes may be placed
on the correct lobes of the brain—
or for certain lines, on the genitals.=
The results will be graphed on a table of outcomes
in the report that forever after must be stapled
to the body of this poem. Perhaps you have seen
a great blue heron lumbering down a pond for takeoff,
its feet entwined in dripping skeins of lily pads.
The morning sun illuminates the strain of the wings,
the encumbrance of roots and petals
dragging their weight across the dark brown of the water.
The bird never rises. No wonder.
Previously published in English Journal.
Paul J. Willis is a professor of English at Westmont College and the former poet laureate of Santa Barbara, California. His most recent collections of poetry are Rosing from the Dead (WordFarm, 2009) and Say This Prayer into the Past (Cascade Books, 2013). He is also the co-editor of the anthology In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare (University of Iowa Press, 2005).