One Perfect Sentence #3


by Nicholas Rombes

From Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine, 2014.

The days of our childhood together were steep steps into a collapsing mind.

The sentence appears a little over halfway through the book in the section titled “February 26, 2102 / In Memory of Trayvon Martin,” and it reminds you that Claudia Rankine is, first and foremost, a poet. The lines in Citizen flow and drift with deceptive ease, in part because of her masterly use of alliteration (steep steps) but also because of the white space on the pages and the bright white quality of the pages themselves. The “collapsing mind” which perhaps echoes and responds to Ginsberg’s “the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.” When I taught the book last semester I was unprepared for the reaction to sentences like this, and the students in turn were surprised by their own reactions. I’ve never taught a book that made class discussions so unpredictable, fluid, full of surprise. Citizen was published in 2016 during the Obama presidency. In a sad way, its stories of subtle racism, micro-aggressions, ideologically concealed white privilege, and structural racism camouflaged as normative are almost quaint now against the backdrop of an openly white supremacist president.

The collapsing mind, now collapsed.

About the Author:

Nicholas Rombes is author of the novel The Absolution of Robert Acestes Laing (Two Dollar Radio), Ramones, from the 33 1/3 series (Bloomsbury) and Cinema in the Digital Age (Columbia UP). His film The Removals was released in 2016. Rombes is a columnist and contributing editor at Filmmaker Magazine, and teaches in Detroit, Michigan.

Each week Rombes will comment on a “perfect” sentence from a novel or short story he’s reading. He encourages you to submit your perfect sentence and comment via Twitter @Requiem102.