With Boots On

Soon after break of day an old man comes
Trudging along the thawing roads of Cottage
Country (the common land of day and hope)
Considering the analects of Spring.
At every unploughed drive where frozen slush
Prevents all ingress of the motored sort
He pauses, then, with an observant eye
Takes it all in with one brief sweeping glance:
Whether to climb whatever barricade
Winter has raised, or shrug, and gravely pass.

Sometimes he enters and bequeaths his prints
To rouse some cottage owner’s brief disquiet
Whether his or her privacy remains
Inviolate. He’s not the sort of fellow
Who gives a hoot for pride of ownership.
But, on the other hand, he wouldn’t break
A lock or force a jamb. Even a door
That hangs ajar he notes as evidence
Of someone else’s carelessness and closes.
He’s not trying to sneak off people’s pasts.

He’s focused more on reading future needs.
He notes the blackened stalks of Viper’s Bugloss
Sticking through drifts around one unmowed lawn
And wonders if the man was taken ill.
Elsewhere a sun-warped shingle in the yard
Suggests a meeting with the roofer might
Reward a second visit. A hanging line
Of draggled mens’ and womens’ swimwear puzzles.
A lot of driveways look like they’ll need patching.
And so his survey lengthens day by day.

He keeps his own snug shack in thick-set woods
Beside a spring-fed rill that floods a pond
Where mink frogs bask on lily pads. His ten
Acres of old growth trees provide enough
Dead wood to keep him warm. His wife’s long gone.
A still strong healthy aging handiman
Who sees the way ahead, he maps his neighbors’
Careers like watersheds and creeks and will
Go on selling cheap help until the morning
One of them finds his gaunt stiff in her drive.



A Rose

One rose had opened to the ardent sun
That smiled upon the chance that brought me where
Such prodigies of buds arched up to bare
Their hearts to the warm light, that this first one
Persuaded me that if, my day’s work done,
I came again, like clouds that mount the air
East as the sun sets west, massed blossoms there
Would crowd.

At dusk returning, I find none.
The morning’s bloom droops black. Its shivering kin
Await a more auspicious breeze than this
That underscores a leaden sky. They’ll freeze
Tonight, I fear. Tomorrow they’ll begin
Again, of course, raised for another kiss.
Meanwhile hearts must survive on memories.



Lionel Willis was born in Toronto in 1932. He has been a mosaic designer, portrait painter, watercolorist, biological illustrator, field entomologist and professor of English Literature as well as a poet. His verse has appeared in A Miscellany of Prints and Poems, The Canadian Forum,  Candelabrum Poetry Magazine, Descant, Dream International Quarterly, Harp Strings Poetry Journal, Hrafnhoh, Iambs & Trochees, Light, Romantics Quarterly, The Classical Outlook, The Society of Classical Poets, The Deronda Review,  The Eclectic Muse, The Fiddlehead, The Formalist, The Lyric, The Road Not Taken, Troubadour and White Wall Review, and in two books, The Dreamstone and Other Rhymes (The Plowman, 2003) and Heartscape, a Book of Bucolic Verse (EIDOLON, 2019).  

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3 Responses

  1. Brandon Jowell

    Your imagery was fantastic. I could see through the handyman’s eyes. God bless!

  2. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    For me, “With Boots On” (great title) speaks of all those hardworking earth angels who go the extra mile to make sure others’ lives are comfortable… I have been privileged to know a few in my time. Your beautifully crafted poem, which flows smoothly and seemingly effortlessly, focuses on the things in life that mean the most. In a world where everyone seems to be at loggerheads, this poem brings a touch of the heavenly to harsh reality.

    “A Rose” could well be a metaphor for hope. My heart always sinks after the cold bite of a freeze kills the budding beauty of a blossom. These words have touched my heart, “Tomorrow they’ll begin / Again, of course, raised for another kiss. /
    Meanwhile hearts must survive on memories. I’m drawing on those memories more and more in these frosty times.

    Thank you very much, Lionel. These poems are lovely.

  3. Margaret Coats

    Very nice work, Lionel. The first poem paints a scrupulously detailed picture of a country man, showing what it means for him to intend to die with his boots on. The plain, tough last line is a bit of a shock, showing how that death may happen. The language seems rough rather than flowing, with occasional quirky features like the odd enjambment of Cottage/Country, that might be problematic in another poem, but contribute to the colloquial effect here. Your secret to good flow is maintaining five beats per line in this blank verse piece. There’s one line I think could be improved metrically: “He’s not trying to sneak off people’s pasts” has four beats anyway I read it. “He doesn’t try to sneak off people’s pasts” would seem better, unless you intend to logjam the meter here at the halfway point of the poem.

    “The Rose” is a fine Petrarchan sonnet with which I can sympathize. Last night we had a squall of heavy rain that beat the petals off most of the pink roses outside my back door. Only the ones on straight-up stems look good today. I like the typography that clearly shows the turn of the sonnet by breaking line 8 in two. Again, well done.


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