William Wallis is my fellow contributing poetry editor at West magazine. Bill was born in the American South and educated at Hendrix College, Southern Illinois University, the University of Nebraska (Ph.D.in Literary Criticism and Creative Writing, 1972), and the Hanover Conservatory (Opera Performance). Between 1978 and 1985, he worked as a stage director, then as a tenor singing operetta and opera in the European theater. After returning to the United States permanently in 1983, he began teaching and writing in Lincoln, Nebraska; and then Santa Barbara, California. He now lives in Los Angeles, where he is Professor and Vice-Chair of the Department of English at Los Angeles Valley College. He has published twenty volumes of poetry and prose. His volumes Joshua (1994), Twins (1996), and Selected Poems 1969-99 (2000) were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, Poetry Division. In 2006, his novel Hawk won the Benjamin Franklin Award in Popular Fiction of the Independent Publishers of America. His latest publication is a biography, Prairie Symphony, the Story of Charles Leonard Thiessen, which appeared in 2010. Another of Bill’s many talents is acting, and he will be playing the role of diplomat-CIA agent Charles Powell in a limited production of my play What We Were Thinking Of.
This is one of several of Bill’s poems, along with videos of his reading them, in the fall issue of West.
On Your Leaving
When you told me you were leaving,
Your hair was a wild mane, your eyes
Brimming with the salt of rage.
I was reminded of the iron bars of love,
But I loved you.
You had always left like this, you said,
When cruelty no longer knew bounds—
They had all sooner or later come to this.
I watched acid trickle from your mouth,
Goddess of Love.
Then today you seemed youthful,
Nubile, your face small and pure,
Shoulders delicate. As you turned away,
I wanted your lips and eyes
As never before.
Tomorrow, you will dance away,
A maenad with fiery limbs, gown in the wind:
A month later, you will be a child, in two
An infant, then slowly bury yourself in words,
And I will age inversely, my hands spot
And wrinkle in lost gestures, increasingly
Disengaged from others, until drought is
An irresistible inward fall toward the secret dust
That will drift from my mouth.
Yet I will remember when the dark cloud
Of your hair rocked my breath with
Its gentle motion, its raven strands
Catching the morning light as your lips
Drank my honeyed flesh.