The Pilot Star Elegies

Sherod Santos, Author W. W. Norton & Company $22 (103p) ISBN 978-0-393-04704-2
Though the rhythms of this masterfully constructed collection are not borne always on the ""black-flagged quinquereme"" of the pentameter, the narrative impulse suggested by its ghostly footfall is everywhere in evidence. In elegies for a student lost to AIDS; for the poet M.L. Rosenthal; and for a sister who has committed suicide, Santos (City of Women; The Southern Reaches) refuses to leave his subjects ""storyless, boundless, and blank,"" seeking them with poignancy and steadiness of gaze, and without the epitaph-writer's pretense of grave authority. His emotions are most obviously addled in the 25 poems of ""Elegy for My Sister"" that constitute the core--though not the cream--of the collection. The sequence attempts to sort the poet's ""deliberate confusions"" about the troubled life of his sister whose death frees her ""from the raveling constraints of what no longer is."" The other series of this fourth collection, ""Of Haloes & Saintly Aspect,"" connects its component poems more mysteriously and perhaps more tenuously: the snarling voice of Rimbaud asserts that ""I'll get mine/ when that death's-head called Posterity scrawls/ my epitaph""; a Post Dispatch reporter attempts to render in her journalistic way the accidental drowning of a young girl who's been catching minnows in the river; a moribund sea turtle strains through its last moments with ""its little/ destiny undisturbed by acts of forgiveness or contrition."" Throughout, however, Santos mourns with irony and accuracy (""Her hands were folded peacefully on her chest; her nails were done up tastefully""), and is undeterred in searching out ""that earth-bound, raw, quicksilvered weight/ a life takes on in that moment it ceases to be a life."" (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/01/1999
Release date: 02/01/1999
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 103 pages - 978-0-393-32049-7
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