by Paul J. Willis

Ninety-five percent of those who read this poem
will experience a sense of wonder. The other
five percent are wondering how to arrive
at this statistic. For evidence is what is needed.

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.

—from Say This Prayer into the Past

Poem of the Month: November 2014


  1. Will you share more about the report you mention in connection with this poem in the notes in Pray this Prayer in the Past?

    • Emily, the report to be stapled to the body of the poem is a bit of a spoof, both in the poem and in the note at the back of my book. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges, however, is the accreditation agency for the college at which I teach. They have a wonderful appetite for reports.

      • Thank you for your quick reply. It does read spoof both in the poem and note. But since the organization is real I got to wondering if there might have been some particular report that finally triggered the poem.
        I plan to share “Assessment” with my book group tonight. We’re largely connected through a school that evaluates student work in prose rather than numerics. One of the categories for which teachers provide prose evaluation is ‘sense of wonder and depth of inquiry’.
        I’m enjoying Say this Prayer into the Past. Thank you.

Leave a Reply