Pensive Prowler #21: Death Sentence

Pensive Prowler #21 by Dmetri Kakmi

Death Sentence

One long sentence is what it felt like, and I don’t mean a sentence as in ‘a set of words that is complete in itself, containing a subject and predicate, conveying a statement, question or command, and consisting of a main clause and one or more subordinate clauses’; no, this felt like a death sentence, ‘a punishment assigned to a defendant found guilty by a court of law’ kind of sentence, because after all I’m talking about being hanged, drawn and quartered, in short punished, for failing to deliver this column on time, when all along I had forgotten it was due on the twentieth of the month because, you see, I’ve been travelling abroad, back home for two weeks, heavily jet lagged, overworked, sleepless in Melbourne; and I had completely forgotten a column was immanent, let alone thought about what to write, and it segued right into my guilt complex, or rather my desire to please, not let people down, disappointing the master of ceremonies at Drunken Odyssey, as I call John King, and I thought ‘By the camel’s lumpy hump, O might Jann, what shall I do?’; maybe I can pilfer something I wrote ages ago and send it to John—he needn’t know, but I’d know and then I’d only add to my misery by deceiving not only the MC but also the blameless reader by handing over soiled goods, so to speak, and there’s be disappointment all around; and then it came to me—be honest, tell the truth; I mean that’s what you normally do when in a tight spot or don’t know something—tell the truth and people will, hopefully, understand; they will be more accepting of a truthful admission, a cri de coeur, so to speak, than a lie, an attempt to draw the wool over their eyes—I’m talking about you, my dear members of the congregation—by pretending I knew what I was doing all along, which of course I didn’t, and couldn’t hope to, since the process of knowing implies conscious effort, knowledge and understanding of choosing a subject and putting one word in front of another to make a whole, which is pretty much what I’m doing now, I guess, as I kneel like a supplicant before you, begging for forgiveness, except of course in this case I don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m headed or how this little misadventure in the confessional is going to end, whether with me absolved or damned, who can say?; all along I’m thinking of the long sentences I’ve enjoyed in books—Orhan Pamuk’s long sentence, buried somewhere in his Istanbul book(there’s another in My Name is Red, but it’s not as long as this one), immediately comes to mind—there are many others—the thing is you don’t realise you’re reading a long sentence until you turn the page and see Pamuk has been running (riffing?) on the same thought for almost a page and a half without a full stop, or a period, as you Americans say (isn’t a period the flow of blood and other materials from the lining of the uterus?), but hey why not punctuate a sentence with monthly lunar expulsions?; it’s better than masturbating on the page, which is what many authors do; but to get back to Pamuk, when you realise you’ve been reading one long sentence without pause, or drawing breath, you turn back the page, glance at what you’ve read and, in sudden wonderment, as if you’ve seen a splendid fireworks, you leap to your feet and clap with the sheer joy of it; it’s a virtuoso moment, a marathon run, and you can hardly believe he’s pulled it off, like those amazing cinematic long takes Brian De Palma is known for, the expertly choreographed, complicated set-ups that seem effortless to you and me, sitting comfortably in our cinema seat, observing, when really they require a lot of careful planning, are technically very challenging and difficult to pull of, flowing and weaving, drifting and swooping—think of the museum sequence in Dressed to Kill or the frenzied opening minutes of Snake Eyes—not a great film, the latter, but still exhilarating for however long it lasts before collapsing under its own misjudgements, with Nicholas Cage running amok, yammering and gesticulating wildly on his cell phone, as you Americans call it, which doesn’t make sense because it is not a ‘cell’ (okay it’s in the dictionary but it’s the last possible meaning); it’s a mobile phone you carry in your pocket and whip out to welcome the interruptions you anticipate in the course of a day; but that’s what I want to say about Pamuk’s sentence in the Istanbul book: it does not collapse; it sustains itself, floatingly sublime, on the spine of letters that turn to words, words that form sentences, units of meaning, on the vertebrae of carefully judged punctuation marks, unlike my piece, which admittedly is starting to wobble, show signs of fatigue, where I’ve clumsily patched things up, made near-invisible cuts and spliced two predicates together, hoping you haven’t noticed, like Hitchcock in Rope, to deceive you into thinking I’m clever using the hyphen instead of the semi colon to link sentences and tie my drowning not waving together so that I can tell myself, I wrote the column, damn it, and John King will be pleased; he won’t send his assassins to silence me before I put down a full stop, or a period, as you Americans infuriatingly call it.*

*Kind thanks and grateful acknowledgement to ‘One Long Sentence’ by Sven Birkerts. You saved my arse. Or ass, as you Americans call it.


Dmetri Kakmi (Episode 158) is a writer and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. The memoir Mother Land was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards in Australia; and is published in England and Turkey. His essays and short stories appear in anthologies and journals. You can find out more about him here.

One response to “Pensive Prowler #21: Death Sentence”

  1. If anyone here reads German, they may appreciate this one sentence I wrote, using a whole afternoon, sitting in a café:

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