Three Life Sentences

Stamped on me

When I was young, being no stranger to feeling comfortable alone, I collected stamps. Before I first crawled through the wardrobe behind the Pevensie children, my windows into worlds beyond and ages ago were stamps. Philately, it was called. What language was that? For whatever reason, my imagination was fired by U.S. Civil War postage. And Lincoln. And Whitman. And civil rights themes. And authors. My childhood stamp album has survived the waves of decluttering that routinely roll through our bungalow and break into the dump, and it sits in a box in the garage, preserved, protected, waiting.  I still pause to look at new stamps when I'm at the post office, but an Edmonton Eskimos stamp or an Edmonton Oilers stamp doesn't quite carry the thrill of 4-cent Lincoln words. I hope there are still kids who collect stamps and dream of cold camps in Antietam (without yet knowing how to pronounce Antietam) when rain falls outside. But, for me, these are post-postage age days.

I now collect sentences.

Like stamps, beautiful sentences are jewels, but they reveal their colour not to the eye, but the mind and heart. They are constructed from blueprints. They emerge from the swamp. They are railed trains that carry boxcars and fuel tankers of words hooked together. They come with their own rhythms and sounds and shafts of meaning.

Here are three more added to the collection this week. They gather around the theme of destruction.

Marianne was a woman of many notebooks, and it was a notebook that ended their marriage. 
- Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton
There is a lot happening in this sentence. There is a perfect balance of 12 syllables on each side of the comma that contradicts in form the content of the sentence, which is the dissolution of the couple's union. The sentence's alliteration (the "m" sounds in Marianne, woman, many, and marriage) imprints it in memory, like an epitaph, or an engraving on tombstone. And there is the wonderful incongruity of the work done by, of all things, a notebook. How could a passive notebook ever undo a marriage, the reader might ask? The sentence itself insures that the next sentence will be read, in hope of the answer.

Then a big boy busted in, screaming at his girlfriend, waving 'round a fungo bat/
Bass player stepping up, brandishing a coffee cup, took it in the baby fat.
- Jason Isbell, Super 8
What I like most about this sentence, other than the superb word fungo itself, is how the "f" and "b" of "fungo bat" in the middle of the sentence resolve with a half turn into the "b" and "f" of "baby fat" at the end of the sentence. It seems that sounds stay in our short-term memory and it's pleasing when we hear their echo.

Helaine Blatt
You've heard it said that less is more, but, with my mother, more was more. 
- Lorne Blatt, eulogy for his mother, Helaine Riva Blatt
Lorne is David's brother and David is my friend from the 11th floor of Tory during undergraduate political science years at the University of Alberta. Their mother was being remembered by her sons at a service Friday at the Jewish Cemetery. I won't forget that sentence, ever.  It started Lorne's eulogy and behind it it pulled sentence after sentence and the effect was a gaining of power and momentum and meaning. What his mother gave was more time and more love and more humour and more real and more love and more and more and more. He captured her in a sentence. Indeed, why not ask for more?


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