Saturday, August 2, 2014

James Finnegan, "The Dead Don't Cast Shadows"

I’d been toying with the idea of focusing my attention this month on movies and such, and when Jim Finnegan posted this poem a while back I was hooked. Not just his noir embrace of movies and Weegee, but also his carefully crafted image throws light on a consideration that’s crucial for me: mediation (that space between, and the action between) is always somehow in shadow (and perhaps, always somehow cast beneath and in response to the dead, if dead means unmediated). (JM)

     The Dead Don’t Cast Shadows

That sounds like the voiceover
from a film noir flick. Still,
as in a crime scene, say the still photos
of Weegee, there’s some truth to it.
First off, when you’re dead
you’re most often recumbent, prostrate,
splayed or sprawled, splatted even, lain out
in some way a bit akimbo, arrayed
in a generally uncomfortable manner.
Then there is the matter of the earth,
your shadow is stuck under your body,
body slammed, gone to ground,
so to speak, squashed thin, so that
it rolls up easily into your body.
But your shadow has not fled so much
as it has forgotten its duty. To stand
there beside you in the light. The pale one
says to the pall, Brother, do you not know me?
Not to hold you up. But to give you
a target, a place in which to fall.

James Finnegan’s poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, The Southern Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review , as well as in the recent anthology Good Poems: American Places edited by Garrison Keillor. With Dennis Barone he edited Visiting Wallace: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Wallace Stevens (U. of Iowa Press, 2009). He is the president of the Friends & Enemies of Wallace Stevens ( His aphoristic ars poetica can be found at ursprache (

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