Two Poems

Figure and Shadow

Figure is clear but shadow is absence.
Figure, solid like a picture in a book,
called a plate.

Figure: “I can be bronze, concrete, cast.”
Shadow: “I am always cast,
I am what you are not.”

Having a figure means attractive
flesh, something you keep. You throw
your shadow. Yet  it clings.

When you figure something out
you say, I see the light. What light
really is lies in shadow.

Shadows always fall.
Can there be a shadow cast up?
Can a figure be a shadow?

Whatever you wrap in shadow
is figured, like a figure
of speech, not what it appears.

What is it to prefigure?
It is to cast a shadow
that rises.

Shadows must get hurt by falling.
Figures, tired of being numbers.
Except zero. It comes from shadow..

When you secretly number
someone’s movements to figure
her out you shadow her.

A public figure casts a long
shadow. The darkness of earth is a
shadow. That of space is not. Go figure.


I wanted to wake you when I was pacing
your deck last night. Clawing your screen
was as far as I’ll ever go, I guess, to make
contact—it’s just too dangerous. I only wanted
to tell you your pond doesn’t belong on
my place, or your lawn, for that matter.

For a while I enjoyed outwitting you.
I’d cruise up the creek in the wee hours
and bore deep into the bank, angling up
for a neat entrance into your slum—though you say
stuff like “placid,” “lovely reflections,” while you pace
looking for soft spots, as if you had a right
to collapse my house—you heard me, slum
is the word for your pond, or underworld, where
gangs of bluegills, turtles, and bottom-feeders
keep anything from growing. I could make
a great little wetland here if you’d let me, lots of
cattail and marsh grass, oh and the wild cucumber!

No point in fantasizing. Word down the creek
is there’s an electronic device that screams
so loud anybody with good ears (I guess you’re
the exception) won’t come near. No doubt you’ll
put one up and feel good about it because
you’re not killing anything. I’ll miss walking past
your Hav-a-Hart traps loaded with stale roots.
Right now, though, I’ve got a hell of a good tunnel
going, even if it’s the last one.

—R. Virgil Ellis, Cambridge, WI