Inventing the Shadow, 1899 by Catherine Anderson

Illuminator of delicate foot bones
and dental caries, my father’s machine flashes,
then disappears into the blur of folklore.

A switch sent crackling waves between
two wires, then voila! a spirit-print, an X-ray.
Found in the cellar, decades later: sheets

of skeletal arms and hands shelved in dust
like Freud’s dreams of his own anxiety—
forgotten, then recalled—the dream

of leaving home naked,
or of teeth falling out like hail stones.
High on a shelf rests my father’s invention,

a tango dance of round coils in a box
of black bakelite and red mahogany,
the grain polished so deep I could show you

the original forest growing within.
Get to know your shadow he would tell me
through ringlets of smoke.

None of us in the whole of our lives
will ever be seen for who we are.
Once, in an experiment to see what

could happen next, I tore up my shadow, then
pitched the little pieces out the window
just to watch them scatter,

lit like snow in moonlight,
my naked shadow—
hissing and swirling in the dry black.

Catherine Anderson is the author of The Work of Hands (Perugia Press) and In the Mother Tongue (Alice James Books). Her third collection, Woman with a Gambling Mania, appeared in 2014 with Mayapple Press and was named as one of the Kansas City Star’s top books of the year.


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