A Shape of Light, Grass, or Stone

for Grishma Shah

Any month would do. Any day, in fact.But let’s make it some midmorning in, say,late May or early June as trees brightwith the season’s sun bend in gusts of wind and a mourning dove coos owl-like somewhere unseen when we, in a momentof abstraction, forget ourselves amongthe many pleasures and extent of life.

There’s always the welcome chanceof never coming back, a possibilitythe Jains of ancient India crafted into a shrineI saw on display three weeks ago.The small metal box, open on one side,contained a man’s simplified figurerendered at the back in reverse silhouette-a shape of light cut into the dark wall.

The miniature body, the placard explained,was the paradoxical absence of itself,a portrait of achieved release. A way.But to the eye the body was whateverlay behind the shrine-a shape of grass,maybe. Or, in a museum, polished stone.

The very image, we could say, of those times when our happiness knows no bounds, when we become replaced by the things we see and hear as if, having died, we hover over ourselves amused by the form that once was our addition to the world- a familiar yet strange shape which, slowly, the wide, restorative world assumes.


What could be more easily neglected than the day after New Year’s Day, an anticlimax’s anticlimax? The date’s sole distinction seems its lack of status, like a vagabond staring down a long road that narrows to nothing in the blue distance.

Along a slope of land overlooking the river, strong winds dismember a decrepit chinaberry tree. Fallen leaves hem the posts of a barbed-wire fence, as plentiful as resolutions abandoned mere days after millions sang “Auld Lang Syne.”

Another orbit over, the holidays having come and gone again, this second day of January seems the sine qua non of nothing special, only the wind worth its weight in gold.

Yet I prefer the overlooked to the overt. I tend toward the penultimate, the peripheral or indistinct, the dark face of a new moon. And so, today, the sun defines a thousand things, the bare trees throwing long shadows across the river that inform what they touch like prophecy.

-Todd Copeland