American Light

Claudia Rankine

Cardinals land
on a branch, female and male.
The sky shivers
in puddles created of night rain.
Speckled particles dance
in a path of light, so it seems
it doesn't matter what's in the road.
Then the shadow of a black oak
leans forward like a wounded man.

The lit landscape conceives
a shadow, its face dark, wide-open,
its eyes bloodshot
from what had come before.


In the lit landscape, in its peeled
back places, making the space
uncomfortable, representing no fault
in the self is a shadow
of a gesture of wanting, coveting
the American light.

A shadow on ships, in fields
for years, for centuries even, in heat
colored by strokes of red, against
the blue-white light-and in it
I realize I recognize myself.


And still the light
fills wind-tossed branches,
makes clouds iridescent
islands in the sky. And still
the same light (for nothing
in nature is private)
insists on a shadow in the road.


Istep into my shadow
as if not to take it anymore,
and wonder where I am going.

Sweet sad shadow, sun charred
on the open road, I don't want
any trouble, don't wish
to be troubled, but when the sun
goes down on this aged,
dirt road, will I end
in dark woods, or make it home?

Nothing in Nature is Private

Last updated February 19, 2023