"It’s not memory
That grinds us down to fine dust,
But the machinery."

William Wallis, Ph. D
Los Angeles Valley College

wallis William Wallis Biography
One Moment More
Stroke
On Your Leaving
Sonnet for Dick Wimmer

 


Biography

Bill Wallis 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). In 1973, while a member of the faculty in Lincoln, he performed a supporting role in Napoleon, a grand opera that he co-authored. His opera The Vision, based on Lakota myth, story, and song, was set to music and performed as part of the American Bi-Centennial Celebration in the Great Plains.

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. In 1992, he performed the World Premier of Robert Chauls’s Song Cycle “Songs of Great Men and Death” at the founding convention of the Emily Dickinson International Society in Washington, D.C. He is a contributing editor for Shofar Magazine at Purdue University Press.

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. (His works are available on Amazon.com.)

He lives with his wife Leslie and their four children just off the Miracle Mile in Los Angeles, where he is a cycling enthusiast.


"One Moment More" a poem by William Wallis from West Los College.

One Moment More

For my daughter Zara

One moment more, not forgotten—
You and I on skis, atop the mountain--
It is sunrise above Stein’s Way, the day’s first run,
And the still slope below whispers of icy danger,
Trees thrust savagely into low clouds
As we perch on the ledge above—
then
In a moment indescribable, calm in ecstasy,
We plunge, all doubt forgotten in action
As steel edges carve the hard-packed surface of things,
And our motion becomes a tool celestial.
You and I in tandem, wing on wing,
Now flying, now drifting in snowy air
Over frigid planes bent in graceful slopes
Caught and crushed to the mountain’s will—
But we win a long argument with gravity,
sail free in frozen caress
Down the mountain’s long flank
toward a stillness
Gracing moments such as these
When the azure of your eyes shames the pale blue
Far above those two tiny figures
Shushing down-mountain
In the warm winter memory of nature’s grace.

 


"Stroke" a poem by William Wallis from West Los Angeles College.

Stroke

Dimensions of pain
Silent, grave, forgotten—
Hospital at night.

Betrayer, she came
Shadowed, sweaty and silent—
A selfish lover.

Buried deep in grey,
Skeletal vein shudders, bursts—
Flooding emptiness.

The ultimate fear—
The tree of knowing sickens,
Leaves begin to fade.

Old fear’s steely grip
Releases its new chokehold—
A deep cough nearby.

Young AIDS patient wakes,
Moans in lonely agony—
All my need, nothing.

Blood, urine, bedpans,
Needles—death is so messy.
Comedy tonight!

Outside the world sags
In entropy, but in here—
Explosions of blood.

Terror waits. Recall
Eighteenth century Paris—
Men came here to die.

You, calm betrayer,
I see your face among these
Duty-ridden slaves.

It was not chaos
You feared, but broken belief—
Mysterious clot.

True thought will question
The soul’s life, but I no more.
My scars there itch, ache.

It’s not memory
That grinds us down to fine dust,
But the machinery.

Enough damned words, fool!
No one cares. Put down your pen
And take a long stroll.

Escaped death again—
Once more a leaf on the wind.
Watch me rise and soar.

 


"On Your Leaving" a poem by William Wallis from West Los Angeles College.

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 disappear.

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.



Sonnet for Dick Wimmer

Hard winters in stripling youth gave small hope,
Stripping away gentle ease of banked fires
For wind chill on blue slopes—my soul for hire
Prowling pale bare roads—and aching knees.
On feral nights, southwest winds swept soil
And ice howling over my room’s thin wall
As I imagined ever tightening coils
About their coffin out there, in the hall.
Windblown dreams—broken by early knocks—
Echoed a darkened orientation
Of men and beasts in narrow, rocky stalls,
And taught me clear care and fear of damnation.
Bound tight now with past strands of woven duty,
I still grace my mind’s life with solitary beauty.