Poetry by Janisse Ray



I would not have seen the web
a spider strung between us and sky
except the sun crested the cliff
along the Bay of Fundy. Finally
our long night beside Mill Creek
was over: I greeted the light.
A shimmer is not a moon-blade,
not the disk of sun plating
tips of red spruce silver.
So much depends on where one looks –
upward! – and when. So much
is happenstance, accident, grace.
Too often the little voices
that say “See!” and “There!” are silent.


But I see the web,
nothing more than
another life, noticed,
which is our job
while we are here.


Notice how quickly the bay
recedes, abandoning more
of its red-pebbled beach,
leaving rocks blanketed
with orange seaweed.
Notice how, back along the cliff,
white asters with gold disks
bloom in pockets
of loose mineral, and the
strange branched milkweed
hangs with frittalaries.

Creation Story

Across the backbone of barrier spit
toward Goose Island although not that far.

Through articulate and wizened arms
of live oak that gather
the lyrics of red-winged blackbirds

and cravings of towhees. Past raceme
of coral bean. Into black needlerush

strung with dew, thigh-cold
and thick.

Toward belly of bay flash,
tang of mullet,
ruddy ground dove’s whir-burst,
marsh wren sunk from sight.

In the skittish crown of cabbage palm

a great blue heron has constructed
her driftwood nest

stick upon stick.

She guards it hunch-necked,
growling, yellow bill agape,

in her charge.


The sidewalk was crowded
the evening the kingfisher fell.
People stopped, staring
at the ground, then up.
It just dropped from the sky,
a woman said.
Chittenden Bank rose
shining, four stories high.
Windows were dusky sky,
the river meters away.

Kingfishers: I know their chants
by heart. I’ve watched
hundreds dive,
fly off.

But once I held
a kingfisher
in my hands,
I touched its blue power.
That may be the only time
I ever do.

What I held was more precious
than handfuls of money.
If I could have restored it
to wind, I would have.

What to do
with the wild pain?
was the question,
and the answer –
carry it
across Elliot Street
to the bushes by the church,
to the flowers,
and set it down.
Slip it inside
an envelope of green.
Give it back.

Give it back, all
of it, and go home.


Sometimes when I am lost in the rolling gray sadness
of cities,

sometimes driving in my automobile

on the wide dead rivers of interstate highways

I see a meadow, burnished grass, pond
like a medallion, grape
arbor twining small green hands.

I see myself go to the great white switch
that keeps the refrigerator running and the saw
spinning and the light connecting its circuitry,
that keeps factories pumping, drillers
whetting appetites, dozers and treecutters
grinding and growling and grating and greasing,
that doesn’t neglect the gun-makers.

In one galvanic motion, using both hands
and every nerve in my body
I flip the big switch

That quiet.
Loud stunning quiet.
Paralysis of storm quiet.

I walk away from the switch
terrified out of my mind,
also mindlessly happy while
the eye of the tempest passes over.

This time maybe there won’t be cannons
and guns and flags waving,
nobody in the streets, fists raised,
No more!
Only tired lines of worried people
waiting at gas tanks, soup kitchens,
Red Cross supply vans, stores,

waiting with their worthless bills,
with the fresh memory of the way
things should be
without a map for getting anywhere else.

What a terrible day.

those who saw the future,
who did not accept the lies,
who listened to science and reason
and their unambiguous hearts,

who turned off their televisions just in time,
shut the newspapers,
used them to start the first fires

those people will already be entering
their small fields, in their hands
some kind of tool
a trace of unhappiness
on their faces.

The sun will have leapt over the pines,
the far ridge,
the windmill, the barn’s cupola.

In that moment before the mist
begins to evaporate, when every leaf-blade
is bathed and fresh, silver-cast,


at the edges of fields

they will turn

to look back at their own tender footsteps
in the ephemeral dew.