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American Life in Poetry

Sun., Dec. 9, 2012

Shadow play is among the few free entertainments left, and it must go on delighting children all around the globe. Derek N. Otsuji lives in Hawaii, and here’s his reminiscence.

Theater of Shadows

Nights we could not sleep –

       summer insects singing in dry heat,

              short-circuiting the nerves –

Grandma would light a lamp,

        at the center of our narrow room,

               whose clean conspiracy of light

whispered to the tall blank walls,

       illuminating them suddenly

              like the canvas of a dream.

Between the lamp and wall

       her arthritic wrists grew pliant

              as she molded and cast

improbable animal shapes moving

       on the wordless screen:

              A blackbird, like a mynah, not a crow.

A dark horse’s head that could but would not talk.

       An ashen rabbit (her elusive self)

           triggered in snow

that a quivering touch (like death’s)

       sent scampering into the wings

              of that little theater of shadows


that eased us into dreams.

Poem copyright 2011 by Derek N. Otsuji. Reprinted from Descant, 2011, Vol. 50, by permission of the author and the publisher. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation and Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


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