Pilot Light
A Journal of 21st Century Poetics and Criticism
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An Unfinished Sentence
(Continued from Page 4)


in your own encounters with the historically Other

that begin and end both your books, in the last movement of “Flood”

		I want to say, this is the music of beginning again,
		When a face on the news stops me.
		It’s a Mexican man I’ve seen somewhere before,
		Perhaps slinking in the long sheetmetal
		Shadow of the day labor office off Shepherd,
		Standing now on the steps of his house,
		The street swollen with water and debris.
		He’s holding a fishing net
		And scooping up a muddy wedding dress
		Billowing in the backwash of the bayou.
		He stands holding it for a long time,
		Watching the water empty out
		Of its lace skirt and bodice. He doesn’t look up,
		Not even when the reporter thrusts
		The microphone beneath his chin.
		He starts staring at the dress,
		And before I can speak I’m gone with him
		To the place where he last remembers it,
		Unzippered and crumpled at the bottom of a skiff
		Shored where the cattails bow along the bank,
		A half-mile down river from the wedding feast.
		The stars never so close and silent as this,
		As he and his new wife swim, the water
		So black and warm against their bodies the world
		Seems to be springing forth
		For the first time out of the dark,
		Out of their footprints pressed in silt,
		Out of the willowroots and stones and snakegrass.
		And when I study his face
		And close my eyes now, I can see the rowing
		Back, the oars rising and dripping
		Like wet wings. I can feel the hot blisters swell
		On my hands and welcome them.
		I can hear the music that floods the night
		And blesses the boat, and there is
		No reason to speak, no reason to say anything.		

where the periods can’t stand against the integrating force not just of scene, which would be merely narrative, but the coordinating conjunctions, the invitation to run on, and the anaphoric repetition, all of which bring each apparent beginning into its place in a continuing and accumulating movement, which here is dilated by this encounter with the face of the historically Other, which Levinas says is the location of any perception of infinity 9

and powerfully in “Dragging Canoe” and “A Brief Oral Account of Torture Pulled Down Out of the Wind”



in your encounter with the nostalgias of the old order, encounters that occasion, too, a reach, a turn to the side, away from the center, to retrieve what is lost within and from the story,

as in “Nocturne: For the River”

		Tell me, Robert E. Lee, of the hundred-year sleep,
			of mice skulls in own dung, your bronze head
		bearing the weight of catacombs hidden
			in the itch of amputees, gas-lit, forlorn.
		Tell me, J. E. B. Stuart, that everything will be okay,
			that your horse is facing the north because
		she misses the snowy fields.
			Tell me, sad horse, with doves nesting
		under your raised hoof, in this century of longing,
			how can I go on loving this ruined excuse for a city,
		sleepy-sweet night, sweet cicada,
			sweet oak, sweet old nothing?

reaching from the centers of the history, Lee and Stuart, to the edges, to the amputees who would be amputated from the tale, to the horse, which is able to become here a life, a creature, a point of attention

in a muscle

in a motion in a flood10 in a river of attention

this sentence

(and think, too, while we’re here of all the other poets from the South from the last two decades who have been drawn into the idea of the flood of sentence of thought: Ammons, Dickey, Stanford, Wright (yes and yes), Daniels, to name a few)

in which we too whether by choice or force of example of drift of time and momentum even of language itself could imagine

through these images of decay and end the decay and end of a white hegemony (which is still dying)

but also show,

also trace (to use Glissant’s word, signifying both the ability to discover a line of thought of cause and as well the confusion or obscuring of the line of cause within the flood—

Essentially, it comes down to this. To explore this double field—the flat reality that flaunts and exhibits its monsters, and the realm of primal truth that, if its mysteries can be fathomed, should finally allow a weighing of reality’s monstrosity—Faulkner invented very naturally a language that does both at the same time. It describes and at the same time seeks to say what cannot be said through description yet fully signifies (establishes through disclosed reason) what is described. The pitch and fluctuations in Faulkner’s writing come from the fact that also, at the same time, it constantly reminds you that this full disclosure is impossible.
 Faulkner’s writing originates from these three elements: a hidden truth (prior and primordial, such as the impossibility of the country being well rooted, its illegitimacy) that regulates the description of the real; a visionary description (determined by intuition and premonitions of primal truth); and the disturbed assurance that the secret of this truth will never be revealed.
 These three elements, or three modes—the hidden, the described, and the inexpressible—are interwoven throughout a book (Absalom, Absalom! for example), just as they are within a chapter and sometimes in a single sentence, carrying the reader to a vertiginous unknown, which is the most precise manner of approaching what can be known.

—so, to trace, but not entirely in the way Glissant ascribes to Faulkner who, he argues, has discovered the impossibility of the disclosure of the truth of the system’s (the hegemony’s) illegitimacy,

because we exist we write at a moment in which that illegitimacy is now more legible than ever, in part because of Faulkner’s tracing, so maybe we are tracing over Faulkner’s tracing and actually writing something further there)

trace the passing away of the past by placing it in the past of the sentence, by making it dependent on the central and present motion and by placing that in a position that does not look forward so much as writes forward to a future

out of a moment so briefly and precariously constructed so that


Whatever attitude he adopts in his rapport with the Other and whatever global vision of the Other he has formed, the writer has no choice but to disturb this vision through his work, even after expressing it in the work. Because finally he must renounce indivisibility and terrifying unicity…


the moment of writing itself, and the moment of identity, the coalescing, the direction that enables and works through the writing, is a moment in which all things have to be constantly improvised,

in ways that are clearer in the increasingly improvised impossibly and irritatingly long sentence (when will this be over? are we there yet?) in which all moments and in which even the effort itself, the motion forward seems always about to fall apart,

but each time it doesn’t fall entirely apart, each time it makes another motion forward, it preserves—even as it is still looking back or feeling at least the morse-tremblings of the motion of the past along the filament of the sentence—the possibility of moving forward into even

another emergent consciousness that must also pass away along the line we are imagining our way to imagining


“Flood” from The Animal Gospels by Brian Barker, © 2006. Used by permission of Tupelo Press.

Lines from “Dragging Canoe Vanishes from the Bear Pit into the Endless Clucking of the Gods,” “In the City of Fallen Rebels,” “Lullaby for the Last Night on Earth,” “Lost on the Lost Shores of New Orleans, They Dreamed Abraham Lincoln Was the Magician of the Great Divide,” and “A Brief Oral Account of Torture Pulled Down Out of the Wind” from The Black Ocean by Brian Barker, © 2011. Used by permission of Southern Illinois University Press.

“Airplanes” from Wrecking Crew by Larry Levis, © 1972. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15620. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

“At the Grave of My Guardian Angel: St. Louis Cemetery, New Orleans” from The Widening Spell of the Leaves by Larry Levis, © 1991. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15620. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

“Elegy for Whatever Had a Pattern in It” from Elegy by Larry Levis, © 1997. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15620. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

“Illustrating how to catch and manufacture ghosts”; “Apparatus to show the amount of dew on trees and shrubs”; “Illustrating the theory of twilight”; “Illustrating an answer to a question through the order in which a bird reveals letters by eating the grains set on top of them”; and “Illustrating the manner of communicating vibrations to the air” from Illustrating the Machine That Makes the World: From J.G. Heck’s 1851 Pictorial Archive of Nature and Science by Joshua Poteat, © 2009. Used by permission of the University of Georgia Press.

“Nocturne: For the River” from Ornithologies by Joshua Poteat, © 2006. Used by permission of Anhinga Press.