“A Story of Mystery,
Much Larger Than We Are”
A Review of
Rosing From the Dead: Poems
by Paul Willis
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
Rosing From the Dead: Poems
Paperback: Word Farm, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
Rosing from the Dead, the newest book of poetry from Paul Willis shares its title with a poem about halfway through the volume, in which Willis reflects on his young daughter’s description of Jesus “rosing from the dead” on Easter Sunday. In that phrase, spoken peculiarly as children are wont to do, Willis considers the possibility that perhaps the resurrection is not unlike a rose in its beauty, wildness and mystery. These three themes of the title poem run throughout the collection, reflecting a deep reverence throughout for the abundant life not only of humanity, but of all God’s creation. The poems here are organized into three sections: “Faith of our Fathers,” “Higher Education” and “Signs and Wonders.” The first two sections, reflect on various aspects of human experience, the third focuses on themes of nature and wilderness. Specifically, the poems in the book’s first section address family relationships, from naming to dysfunction. One of the most striking poems here, “Nuclear Family” sketches the story of a nuclear physicist, so fixed on his career and the pursuit of nuclear technologies that could destroy all humanity, doesn’t see the destruction that his own pursuits are wreaking upon his own family. The poems in this section are written from a variety of perspectives – children, teenagers, parents – and taken together they weave a rich, vibrant tapestry of the complexities and joys of family life.
The book’s middle section, “Higher Education,” features other poems about a variety of human experiences, including bifocals, trifocals, working in a library and the book’s title poem as well. These poems seem to be grouped a little more loosely than those in the book’s other two sections. One of the finest poems here is “Physical,” which recounts with wit and insight, the experience of getting visiting the doctor for an annual checkup. The poem, which toys with book-related themes throughout, concludes:
“That’s it, then,” he said brightly. “You look good
Make an appointment for a year or two.
You’re healthy as they come.” But we both knew
The body of my text lay all too frail,
a signature we could not mend or bind.
Longtime readers of The Englewood Review will likely know that I have a deep appreciation for nature poetry. Thus, it will not surprise them to hear that I found the third and final section of the book, “Signs and Wonders,” to be the most compelling. Many of the poems here were written in (or at least in reference to) some of the grandest National Parks of the West ( Sequoia, Death Valley, Kings Canyon, etc.), and even among the ones for which Willis has not stated a location, there is a rich sense of place that connects these poems. For instance: “There are still fall colors here, even in Santa Barbara;/ the bright crimson of toyon berries, clustered/ against the paling sky, the chartreuse mottling/of sycamore leaves and yellowing rust of bay,/ of laurel” (from “What We Have”). All of the themes that emerged in the book’s title poem – beauty, wildness, mystery – are all here in these poems, stirring a deep reverence in us for not only the creation, but also the creator.
The poems of Rosing from the Dead serve as reminders of the fullness of life, and stir in us a gratitude not only for life, but for all the twists and turns therein that remind us that we are part of a story of mystery that is much larger than we are.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com