Before she became the acclaimed author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, Wild Card Quilt and Pinhook, Janisse Ray was a poet, a calling she has never abandonedd. Nor has it abandoned her. How heartening, therefore, to see her first love given its full-throated voice in Waking in the Forest! These poems are indeed about waking up, looking around at the world, and discovering how to live within it. Often they seek relationship with that world, speaking to the birds, for example, and begging of them, "Oh kinglet, Oh oriole/tell us what you know.” Janisse Ray know show to listen to what our world has to tell us, and she knows how to transform that listening into language that kindles our imagination, which after all desires nothing less than to be utterly alive in our landscape. “No matter how rich/we become, or old,/ or unable, won’t /some part of us desire to weave/a basket in which to forage/the last of the grapes? “ the poet asks. Ray’s poems weave for us such a basket. They show us how to gather and cherish the things of this world.
To order this book, go to Wind Publications, where Charlie Hughes, poet and editor, runs one of our best regional small presses. Or for a signed copy, order directly from Janisse Ray, 895 Catherine T. Sanders Rd., Reidsville, GA 30453. $16 for paperback, $27 for hardback (includes shipping.)
(Janisse Ray talking with my brother, Charles Stripling, at the Joseph F. Jones Ecological Center in Baker County, Georgia)
Field Guide for Wildlife Clinics
The goshawks in their cages
do not wish to hear recordings
of the boreal forest, a particular
longing of wind in aspens, calls
of saw-whet owls and the skitter
of red-backed voles in leaves.
Nor do broken-winged warblers
in wicker baskets desire the
piped music of eastern deciduous
slopes in late spring, exaltations
of redstarts and thrushes, a honking
of cranes like sky-flowers.
Nor record for the swallow-tailed kite
staring with one good eye
the relief of waves lapping a beach
after migration, purl of dolphin, yaw
of curlew and boat-tailed grackle,
wind arranging black needlerush.
There is no returning.
Better to play Nina Simone, oh
children, go where I send you.
Or Van Morison, Etta Mae Baker.
In your own room, broadcast
swamp-moans while you sleep.
I know where
the ribbon snake
under the maple
by the barn.
One day when I
a dead leaf
crackled like fire
and I saw her,
slip of green
around the waist
of the tree,
When she turned
to face me, eyes
I -- wanting
to feel her softness,
her certainty, the stove
of her tiny heart –
touched one finger,
upon her perfect tail.
At that moment
the tree opened
and she wound
dark and narrow.
I turned away,
on her mat of earth
at the bottom
of the maple,
among the roots,
Boat Ride at Wakulla Springs
By lying about the fare and hustling them
past the ticket counter, we hoodwinked
our parents onto a flat-bottomed boat
that circles the Wakulla River.
They preferred a flea market, they said,
where you can take something home, until
the river wrapped its arms around them
like sleepy children. Disappearing sun
struck wide across the swamp, alligators
on high tussocks. Moorhens with scarlet
beaks scuttled among swaying grasses,
unchaining great pearls of apple snails.
Our father, on and off his feet, praised
the deer, anhingas with wings outspread,
water snake draped through wild roses,
gray log knotted with seven Suwannee cooters.
Wood ducks parted the blue pickerel-weed.
Turkey vultures, readying for night,
lowered by the dozens in easy loops, knitting
a black curtain slowly through the cypress.
When the ride ended, it was true.
We walked off the boat empty-handed.