Is a tail absolutely necessary to the comfort and convenience of a dog?
—Mark Twain, from a notebook for The Innocents Abroad
Poets think in lines, prose writers in sentences; the best of both work from sound to sense, with an ear for the music in their compositions. S for Sentence celebrates lyricism in prose, the play and craft at work in the artful sentence. We post a sentence a month along with comments by a guest writer on the craft that shapes it, on what makes it great. In one or two sentences.
—Pearl Abraham, Editor
Had the speaker begun with Is the tail of a dog necessary we’d picture by now a creature with a name and a zip code and a full complement of creaturely attributes. What we’re given instead is a tail untethered, a tail on the loose, like the nose in that story by Gogol or the hand in that cheesy horror movie that roams the mansion at night, spidering up the stairs and playing the piano and strangling the help. In the complete absence of any context, we trampoline up into the blue. From out the flurry of every tail ever wagged or flippered or feathered, we grope for the one that fits. Oh, and can you feel the burn? Not is a tail necessary but is a tail absolutely necessary, absolutely the tone word that turns the simple query into a provocation, as if the speaker, exasperated for some reason at our stubborn attachment to the tail (or the tail’s stubborn attachment to us) were hinting that we should put an end to this nonsense once and for all. But now the non sequitur – necessary to the comfort. Comfort? I don’t know about you (we all have our favorites), but when it comes to comfort, the tail is not the body part that comes to mind. Whatever. No time for that now. Without a referent to gather it all together, onward we sail in a state of exhilarant ambiguity (convenient? a convenient tail?) to land at last on the word that bodies it all into place, all of it, the whole she-bang, the single syllable to cinch it all together. What was that? What just happened? Back in a flash we go to marvel at the trick, at the wit of it all – the dozen words we held at the outset. The tether we twist. The tether we tug. The tail that wags the dog.
—Alan Sincic is the author of The Babe and Sugar