'Shadow'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Editor's note: In this excerpt from the Caldecott Medal winner, Marcia Brown translates and interprets conversations with African shamans gathered by French poet Blaise Cendrars. The eerie, shifting image of Shadow appears where there is light and fire and a storyteller to bring it to life.

Shadow lives in the forest.

It goes forth at night to prowl around the fires. It even likes to mingle with the dancers. Thus it is both prowler and dancer.

Then when the last fire is out it goes back to the forest.

But Shadow does not sleep. It is always watching. If you open your eyes in your sleep, Shadow is there. It has already stolen back like a thief, and now it is spying on you. The eye has no shadow, but it sees Shadow stirring the embers until the log on the hearth crumbles without a sound and falls to ash.

Shadow is a fall. They say also that it is the mother of all that crawls, of all that squirms. For as soon as the sun comes up, here are the shadow people, breaking loose, unwinding, stretching, stirring, branching out, teeming, like snakes, scorpions and worms.

That's why a person keeps an eye on his shadow when he wakes up, and takes care not to step on it when he gets up. It could prick him or bite him! But Shadow says nothing. It has no voice.

Shadow is frightening, but there is no need to fear. It is not death. That's clear because it is there every morning and never says a thing, while death, when it comes, cries out. Besides, Shadow never asks for a thing. It has no hunger.

Even so, watch out! For though Shadow has no voice, like the echo, it can cast a spell over you, for good or bad. It is a trickster. It laughs behind your back. It mocks you and makes a fool of you.

In the daytime Shadow is full of life. It waves with the grasses, curls up at the foot of trees, races with the animals at their swiftest, nestles behind the elephant's ear, perches on a stone, swims along with the fish.

It follows man everywhere, even to war.

Shadow is always Shadow. It needs no ornament, no tattoo. The zebra's shadow has no stripes.

Shadow is magic. You had better not look at it too closely. For is it to the left, or the right, before or behind, above or below? At noon, Shadow is everywhere.

In the evening, Shadow spreads out; not a hole that it does not fill, not a hump, not a mound that it does not double! It even sticks to your footprints. It lies down on the footpaths. It chokes all the roads. No one can pass, for no one can push it aside, it is so heavy.

Yes, Shadow is heavy when night falls.

Neither the eagle nor the vulture can raise it. In vain they try to soar into the air. Their shadow flops this way and that, like a clumsy bat, and crashes so heavily to the ground, that they, the mighty birds of the heavens, fall after it, worn out. No one can fight Shadow.

Go home, build a fire. Behold once more, Shadow! What is Shadow? In the crackling coals, is it the spark? Light up! The spark has no shadow. The eye has no shadow, but Shadow is in the eye. It is the pupil! Every breath stirs it to life. It is a game. A dance.

Excerpted from the book SHADOW, translated from the French and illustrated by Marcia Brown. Illustrations copyright c 1982, by Marcia Brown. Translation of Blaise Cend-rars' "La Feticheuse" used by arrangement with Editions deNoel, Paris. Reprinted in the U.S. by permission of Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., Children's Publishing Division. All rights reserved.

Pub Date: 03/21/99

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