An Encounter with the Immaculate
The Shadow, technically free verse, in that it is no recognized form, is actually a poem so formal that the form allows almost no room for the essential variation. There is something within us that loves repetition, like a child hearing a fairy story over and over again. The disintegration of the form at the end of The Shadow seems to make people say sadly, and involuntarily, "Aaaawwww..."
This poem is definitely an obsessive form, because of the heavy repetition. It is actually most closely related to primitive catalogue poetry like The House that Jack Built, and Monday's child...
The imagery is, of course all white or clear, and "without spot or blemish." While there was an inspiration for this poem, it really fits into the "ambiguous" category, like The Room. It means whatever you want it to mean. One reader with an art historical background insisted the small white dog must be the iconographic symbol of marital fidelity. It certainly can be, but it doesn't have to be. Why is the dog there at the end? Because it felt right. It gave it a good, round, ending. Beyond that, I don't know.
This poem is much more than the original inspiration, but for curiosity's sake, I will tell you that I got the germ of the idea when I was taking a Printmaking course (Silkscreen, or serigraphy, if you must) from Bill Laing at the University of Calgary. I had the strange ability to create spotless prints out of a shambles of squeegees dripping ink onto the floor, paper towels, solvents, and general grime. Bill was aghast: he couldn't imagine how I could do it. Then, appropos to nothing (except my messiness), told me that his house was all white, the floors, the carpets, everything. He said he hated to have people over, because then he had to wash the floors.
The first thing that popped into my mind was, "I bet you'd never let me into your house," and I was off and running, imagining what I would do, my corrupt and defiled self, were I let loose in his house -- plunging my filthy hands into all the whitest, cleanest things. The first version of this poem was "You let her into your house," but I found it lacked immediacy. I took the plunge, and changed she to I. Somewhere along the line, it got a bit bigger than just Bill's house.
The imagery at the end was taken from his art at the time: plexiglass shadow boxes with transparent shadows of objects airbrushed or silkscreened or etched into them, so the shadows themselves cast shadows, thus, "a shadow's perfect shadow." I loved these works: they were so minimal, so clean, so perfect. The dog came from another work, eyeglasses with an image of a running dog etched on them. The dog was white because Bill had a small white dog at the time, and the image of the dog running, though frozen, was just the touch of life the poem needed at the end. If it means more, in an Emily Dickinson or art-historical way, no one told me. But it well could. It well could.By the way, it has been my habit to give people a copy of the poems I write about them: I'm looking for some kind of recognition from them that I've got it right, I've understood. Generally, this is the case. When I asked Bill what he thought about this poem, he said, "I keep it in the car. I read it at red lights."
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