CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
Elegy for the Sentence
Tasha Haas


I remembered the sentence when I saw the old man and woman walking on the shore the man with a plank for a leg a war having kept the leg. The death of the sentence not yet when I saw the struggling, the half-cripple the variegated wood of the plank. How imagination would give and give. How the sentence would remember everything.

I want to take your hand, worn and open.

A sentence is a death as every once is a death, a once a separation an end (I had forgotten). The waves kept their right sides company. The waves populated this couple’s east the waves were. A shard of sun on an ancient cheekbone. I knew the shard of intention like the shard of a wave. Where does one point to point to death in the waves? A sentence will never pin an intention. A hand is just one shard of the body, a leg just one shard.

The river makes a gate between.

I wanted to weave a story of these absences these failures these stacks by proposing them as the possibilities of your pressed-together palms (your stingy alphabet): the silences, the lash-thin pauses not our own invention. But a proposal takes a committee. Agreement to stack the children of definitions, to meaning them head to toe. More agreement than subject-verb.

What keeps me apart is.

Who are the old man and woman? An indefinite suffering had extended itself stiffly to own the leg. In the rain, imagination claimed them, in the rain. Their figures were as true as. Strokes, smudges from any fingertip. In the rain an ocher smudge might have been made through rain-blue for the old man. For flesh and blood, color.

How barren the river’s mouth.

I could take your hand, a chance. I could claim my lack of everything. The river has washed between us, and all the ancient trash has swept there. Pauses and dashes. Commas in spite of stepping gingerly as specific as shards invade my sanded toes in spite of stepping from which stories once flowed.

How useless the river’s bridges.

The rain has a giant eraser. Color has forgotten an ocher smudge has forgotten. In the rain the war is almost the war that everyone wants, the war that was erased. Sweeping the pretense (with it the leg) the chastity back into position. Before anything has been discovered missing. As if intention were. As if to live did not crave to mistake.

Its attempts: passion, difference, grammar.

Bridges bridged neither oceans. Nor shores. Looping (not) water to water wave to wave. There had never been space enough (there will never be) there would have been. There had never been to lift such weight (space enough) as imagination. To lever oneself from the exact angle from which the example bent, for the bending is in the legs: the flexibility of the pulleys the contrition of the thigh muscles. Such qualities absent planks, absent alphabets.

All collapsing or never built.

I remembered the death of the sentence when I saw the misty figures of the old man and woman, the plank of the leg wettened black in the rain, so stiff one might turn it perpendicular and serve a meal atop it. Perhaps to begin with, plums. I considered plums which wanted to roll all the way to the toes but were halted in the hollow of the ankle. But no ankle was (only once) only wood. How the sentence begged me how it was short on everything how it asked for more how I had already given what I could.

She who steadies the crippled.

This is just one story of failure, it has fallen out of the alphabet. The story of the old man’s death on a small, blue boat that too late turned back. Too late looked to the shore where the wind first learned from the waves. To fling itself without reason to throw itself as emptily as.

Her hand the shaking bridge.

I drew near beneath imagination. Beneath imagination I drew near. The story approached it had lost its shyness. Because so many sentences were absent was a story in spite of. A dripping onto the hardened waves, a periods the rained fingertips. I exchanged the positions of dot-drops in order to avoid an end if an end was in spite of.

If I could have felt the suffering of others.

In the morning the men launched their boats in search. No search was found. The old woman watched and waited for the plank to wash in on the tide until her own death. Her face as I drew near (my strokes, my smudges in hand) had taken on perhaps years will do it the rigidity of suffering. How I felt and felt. How no end, no beginning.

If I could have been more humble than imagination.

I carried your hand until I reached a fork at which I could say, here the river comes together, here what keeps me apart has drained away. Leaving the rest of your body behind it did not matter then if your hand stiffened or consented in mine for it filled the spaces. Filled between I filled between story. Sistered in that moment alphabet to alphabet stroke to stroke.

If I could have worn the sentence open.

I thought the intention of the sentence was no more than my capture of your hand the putting of you into. I would net you in sentences: the old man and woman, his sea death his plank, his plank I loved. But it was a failure to launch boats that had no cause to return. What obvious boats these were, that waited when they reached where the river oceans, that lulled alone where the horizon drops off as if looking back for no reason, as if unable to forget.