The Shadow That Everything Casts

SITTING OUTSIDE AT THE END OF AUTUMN

Three years ago, in the afternoons,
I used to sit back here and try
To answer the simple arithmetic of my life,
But never could figure it—
This object and that object
Never contained the landscape nor all of its implications,
This tree and that shrub
Never completely satisfied the sum or quotient
I took from or carried to, nor do they do so now,
Though I’m back here again, looking to calculate,
Looking to see what adds up.
Everything comes from something,
only something comes from nothing,
Lao Tzu says, more or less.
Eminently sensible, I say,
Rubbing this tiny snail shell between my thumb and two fingers.
Delicate as an earring,
it carries its emptiness like a child
It would be rid of.
I rub it clockwise and counterclockwise, hoping for anything
Resplendent in its vocabulary or disguise—
But one and one make nothing, he adds, endless and everywhere,
The shadow that everything casts.

—Charles Wright, Negative Blue: Selected Later Poems


The notion that something exceeds our human knowledge, that everything we see is but the shadow of some greater order of the Real, that we are – as limited beings, unable to fathom the complexities of that which lies just outside human consciousness; but that this “something” – a nothing, or less than nothing, still moves, exists, invisible yet real – withdrawn and away; hidden from our powers of persuasion to reveal, a rhetoric of the unreal Outside that is… the possibility that a void, the emptiness surrounding us is more real than we are: a shadow that everything casts.

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