DeWitt Henry

On Shadows & On Risk
February 19, 2020 Henry DeWitt

On Shadows

Me and my shadow
Peter Pan lost his
a shadow of my former self
the Shadow knows
ninety degrees in the shade

like silence to sound,
eddies behind boulders,
eclipses, moon phases
warm-up acts to celebrity.

Sundial’s stylus, marking time
Five o’clock shadow

Fencing with his shadow
Scared of her shadow
Groundhog back to sleep

In Science we measured
our shadows according to
the hour and season.
My hand and fingers make a rabbit
silhouettes on the shade.
Shapes cast on a backlit screen.
Shades in the underworld.
Overshadowed.  Under the shadow.
To shadow is to imitate, to follow.
The P.I. shadows the adulteress.

At 22, a graduate student,
lonely, life- and draft-deferred,
I sat with back to sun, relieved
to spy my head and shoulders
framed by blocks of light.
To have some substance.  Self-
defined and fixed upon
a life of thought.

The wicker basket
left outside all winter
leans 0-shaped against a drainpipe,
one side aglow with morning sun
while the other casts its filigree
not only over woven innerness
and rag of snow below, but over
six feet of flat ground
to a wedge-shaped bulkhead,
where it climbs and joins
the solid shadow of the wall,
then lays its crescent handle
(turned to knifepoint)
over one door.  Miraculous!

Shadows in her childhood
swept up bedroom walls
as terrors until
“I figured it out one night,”
writes Annie Dillard.  Headlights
passing in the street.

We’re walking shadows
Poor players, protests the nihilist

Victims of significance.
Body against soul.
Touch against desire.

Undreamt of transformations,
familiar, yet strange.





On Risk


Nothing ventured/gained. Never up/in. Risk tolerance (with investments). Risk free (offer). Risk ready? Win your life by losing it. Pregnant or not? HIV? STD?  Fasten your seatbelt.  Hazmat suits.  Latex gloves. Smoking may be dangerous to your health. The most dangerous game.  High risk sports, where the point is not to die. Russian roulette (one loaded, five empty). Credit score. Life insurance (all insurance).  Actuarial odds.  Warranties. Liability waivers. No lifeguards, swim at risk. Thrill rides.  Sure things.  Head in sand. Bomb shelters or swimming pools? Risk in writing. Hedging bets. Playing safe. Over your head. Shooting the works. Hope for best, brace for worst. Evel Knievel. Fools rush in. Hamlet follows the ghost.  Macbeth jumps the life to come.  Along the glass bridge, tourists crawl.  We marry, we dare to have children (“What he [Levin] felt towards this little creature…was a new torture of apprehension”).  We move to new worlds and jobs.  Tempted, we risk our proper good.  Frost’s dare not to care.  Roads less travelled by. The unknown for the known. Familiar for strange. Calculated or senseless.  Drop your guard. Trust your gut.  Caution to winds.  Brave the elements.  Set it free.  One wild and precious life.  Living is so dear.

DeWitt Henry was the founding editor of Ploughshares.  Other “Notes On…” abstract topics have appeared in Massachusetts Review (“Weather”), Brevity (“Conscience), Constellations (“Falling”) and Woven Tale Press (“Voice”).  His novel, THE MARRIAGE OF ANNA MAYE POTTS, won the Peter Taylor Prize.  He has also published two memoirs, SWEET DREAMS and SAFE SUICIDE, and a third, ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS: FAMIILY ESSAYS is just out from MadHat Press.  He is a Professor Emeritus at Emerson College.  For more see