Ted Kooser: American life in poetry 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.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (http://www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright 2011 by Otsuji. Reprinted from Descant, 2011, Vol. 50, by permission of Otsuji and the publisher. Introduction copyright 2012 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004 to '06. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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rsp wrote on December 09, 2012 at 4:12 pm

My grandson sleeps with a flashlight. I put him to bed with all of these shadow puppets. We also make his cars and toys into giants and the lights on the cars work. Bedtime is easy.