The deepest lake dried up
millenniums ago. Stand at its edge
in windblown dust and watch
dinosaurs crash across the land.
Pterodactyl flies thirsty for water.
It’s a memory then too.
A mirage, like God, seated
cross-legged in a desert, huge
bowl of rainwater in his lap.
Grand Canyon without the miracle
of river to cut clean into Earth.
Carved rock gapes, a parched throat
sending echo into sky
when a baby cries for milk.
I fall like shadow in this place.
Desolate but for beauty
and without reason. The mind’s implications
vacate where I cast my spell.
I struggle to serve lunch
to my child, whose talk thunders
like a distant storm.
I rise to see the lightning bolt.
Teems of water wash that far-off place,
and I long to drown.


LISA RAE CUNNINGHAM is a massage therapist. She lives in Los Angeles with her son.

39 responses to “Like Shadow”

  1. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m currently sitting in the middle of an epic thunderstorm, but I particularly liked the image of your son’s voice booming like thunder.

  2. Judy Prince says:

    Really liked this part, Lisa Rae, the evocative dreamy images and sounds, and agreeing with David, the child’s talk that “thunders like a distant storm”:

    “Desolate but for beauty
    and without reason. The mind’s implications
    vacate where I cast my spell.
    I struggle to serve lunch
    to my child, whose talk thunders
    like a distant storm.
    I rise to see the lightning bolt.
    Teems of water wash that far-off place,
    and I long to drown.”

    • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

      Thank you for this vivid response, Judy. I’m haunting my own life here… It was one of those moments I didn’t inhabit.

  3. I am magic! Every time I start to think, “hey, I haven’t read some new fabulous work from *insert TNBer* in awhile,” that person almost instantly appears. And here you are. Worth the wait. Beautiful! These lines in particular stuck with me: “A mirage, like God, seated/cross-legged in a desert, huge/
    bowl of rainwater in his lap.”

  4. Sad in the best way–lovely.

  5. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    Thank you for reading, Victoria. It’s true. It’s sad. Thank goodness for art.

  6. Becky Palapala says:

    I love that small feeling so much. The weird kind of mortified calm that comes from–even for a second–becoming suddenly aware of the enormity of the universe and deep time and the nothing that’s the second you’re realizing it in. But it’s not nothing. You and your second are among the drops.

    Fuckin’ a right.

    Sublime, Lisa. In the most literal sense of the word.

    • Becky Palapala says:


      I must have done something wrong.

      I mean, it is sad. But it’s also amazing and lovely? Isn’t it? *reads again*

    • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

      Thank you, Becky. I enjoy this response because you put me into your point of view. Perspectives on poetry are so personal, and so interesting. It really does allow people to respond as creatively as its made.

      • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

        This poem does have a theme, it’s a moment in life descriptive of one specific human condition, but I explore it in the abstract. Short of recognition of a common sufferer, it’s elusive to the reader.

  7. dwoz says:


    you know I love you, so this is an expression of that.

    dinosaurs crash across the land.
    Pterodactyl flies thirsty for water.

    these lines are superfluous.

    cross-legged in a desert, huge

    why do you tell us again about the desert. “in a desert”…delete.

    I fall like shadow in this place.

    I am like shadow in this place.

    I love, love, love the switch to local perspective…to the child.

    The cry is so different to the parent, isn’t it? The cry is not a need, it’s a demand. It is a capitulation. It is a subjugation of self to the other.

    And you acknowledge this, impeccably, with “Desolate but for beauty”.

    I struggle to serve lunch

    This is pretty amazing, actually. You don’t say, “nourishment” or “food” or “nuture”…..”lunch.”

    like a waitress.

    A greasy spoon diner waitress. Because nourishment is not calories, and you’re empty.

    A nuanced and REAL demonstration of the mother’s world. Not hopeless, not fatalistic, just realistic.


    this is a verb. used as a noun. I know you, and you don’t make mistakes, so this isn’t a mistake.

    The detachment of the mother as she gives milk, but has no milk. Has no magic in her purse. Has no nourishment, but has milk.

    Milk, is after all, like piss. The physical body provides it. The physical body scavenges and steals from the spiritual body to provide it.

    No matter how dry the lips are, the breasts produce.

    But what’s good about this piece, is that it doesn’t blame the child. It perseveres with the child, perseveres IN SPITE OF.

    You embrace and love spirituality even as you reject it. God is, after all, a mirage. A clever and cruel joke. A play of the mind AGAINST itself.

    but the mother is not a mirage. Nor is the child. What is the TRUE NATURE of unconditional love? you’ve defined it.

    You’ve defined it.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      I can speak only for myself, and I realise this is a debate that’s been touched on in a previous piece for Lisa, but I have an issue with using this space as a venue for this kind of critique of work. Obviously, this is Lisa’s piece, and not mine, and I want to respect that – but I’ve noticed lately, Dwoz, that you’ve been veering into criticism of the writing present, specifically, with the recent excerpt from Marc Boyle’s book, seemingly with the goal of advising revision.

      Given that this is an online magazine, and not a writer’s group, it seems inappropriate.

      Again, this is just me, and I speak for no one else.

      • dwoz says:

        fair enough.

        I would only point out, that Lisa has particularly indicated a preference for candor, for what that’s worth…

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Absolutely – I remember the discussion.

          However, when it comes to line edits, discussions of superfluousness, and advice on cutting words, my personal feeling is that the time for editing is before publication.

      • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

        @Simon: This example really gives action to our previous discussion about your philosophy regarding TNB commentary. I think, too, this example metamorphosed differently than the other dialogue for a couple reasons. Last time I asked a specific, holistic question about a piece I self-published, so I felt comfortable in that conversation. In this case we have editorial intervention of a different kind. I’m open to it because I feel, in retrospect, it’s mandatory I acknowledge I unlocked the door, but in fairness to the Editors of TNB, poetry and fiction on this site have already undergone scrutiny and been published by The Nervous Breakdown beyond the author’s immediate control. This piece, in this venue, is complete. I see how this kind of commentary could evolve into something destructive. I’m with you here, Simon. I think you’ve made a good call. Thank you.

        @Dwoz: I do welcome your candor. Please send me a direct email with these kinds of notes in the future.

      • Gloria says:

        I love you.

        • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

          I love you too. (If you’re talking to me. If you’re talking to Simon, we can add him to the current Gloria-Nick-Lisa love train.)

        • Gloria says:

          People all over the world (Sisters and brothers)
          Join hands (join, come on)
          Start a love train (ride this train, y’all), love train (Come on)

          People in Russia and China, too.

          I won’t even bother specifying who I was talking to. But I will say this: people do not know how to dress anymore.

        • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

          Girl, I’ll tell you who you’re talking to. Me.
          There’s a homeless lady in Santa Monica, my son and I check her out on the way to school — 7:45 a.m. weekday mornings by the pier — she gets her freak on, dancing on street corners. It occurs to me now she missed her calling. (Or she’s an escapee from this video. Maybe she’ll turn up on Where Are They Now?)

        • Gloria says:

          Do you see how natural everyone looks in that video? They all had hair and chub and small boobies and they danced like they meant it.

          I think the world would be a better place if they just brought back Soul Train.

        • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

          I feel like somebody at TNB is hard at work on time travel. Is it Joe Daly?
          Well, when the vehicle is ready, our first throwback is Soul Train. No doubt.

        • Ben Loory says:

          thanks gloria! i’ve been watching soul train videos for about three hours now!! absolutely amazing stuff!

          (hafta say, though… don’t see much of that chub you mentioned… everyone looks like the scarecrow to me… :D)

        • Gloria says:

          Well, there’s the one guy in the checkered pants in the link I pasted above – the one who’s dancing and then passes out? I’m pretty sure that’s what happened. The rest of them, yeah. Pretty skinny. But still natural, you know?

    • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

      Dwoz, thank you for another thoughtful response.
      I do think, sometimes, you’ve created a bit of a persona for me — as if we really know each other — and I wonder if that caricature influences the way you allow yourself to interpret my work.
      This is not about motherhood or unconditional love. BUT, it’s absolutely true that being a mother is of my essence and I reconcile that responsibility as graciously as possible in everything I do.
      This is particularly true when I get honest about the nature of my sins.
      Trust me: I fall like shadow in this place.

      I really enjoyed your interpretation, though, and I hope you keep it since I’ve yet to give up mine. Poetry is so alive. It makes progress.

  8. And this is just me, but I loved this, and I don’t always respond instantly to poetry. You captured those frequent parental moments I have myself when both the minor and the monolithic seem to converge. Thanks for posting this.

  9. Joe Daly says:

    I echo Nat’s comment that poetry isn’t always my bag, but this was a really nice read. Your dreamy, meditative imagery has a nice flow that rolls easily from line to line.

    Was this written in the Still of the Night? Or was this a morning creation? I see it being one or the other. 🙂

    Typically great stuff!

    • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

      Why do I feel cool when Joe Daly reads my poem?
      You are such a rock star.

      It was written at lunchtime. Telling it like it is always throws people.

  10. Irene Zion says:

    Lisa Rae,

    I think I understand.
    You have responsibilities, and yet,
    there is a storm howling in your mind.
    You are torn.
    (Perhaps it is simply that I have felt this,
    and I cast my shadow on your words.)

  11. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:


    • Irene Zion says:

      Well, Lisa,

      You’re not alone feeling these things.
      At least there’s that.
      (And you got a beautiful poem out of it.)

      • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

        I was fighting an obsession without connecting to God or society. I felt alone. Rather than act on a destructive affliction, I wrote this.
        You’re right.
        I’m not alone, and I got a poem out of it.
        Sometimes Hell generates beauty.

  12. jmblaine says:

    Now this is strange.
    I commented here a few days ago?
    Something about beauty & chaos
    & hellish beauty?
    I loved your poem
    it said something about that.

  13. Gloria says:

    This choked me up, mama.

    This is really beautiful.

    • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

      Because I’ve gotten to know about you and your life and your take on things, this means quite a lot. Thank you, Gloria.

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