The Sentence

begins with its subject,
          which is the sentence.

Track the sentence
          to find out what happens

or how it will act. It is
          the subject, after all. To track,

meaning keep an eye on,
          which is synecdoche,

part representing the whole
          of a thing. One

may track a package if he pleases.
          One may track a person,

though you’d probably want
          the whole of him, not only

an eye, or perhaps
          only an eye. Look how

the sentence is so capable
          of embracing contraction.

A him may function
          as a subject, but that depends

upon the sentence, i.e., A man
          is subject to his sentence.

You understand.
          Such syntax renders it like

a package showing evidence
          of having been tampered with—



Copyright © 2019 by Nathan McClain. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 23, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“‘The sentence’ was written on the heels of a longer sequence of poems I'd composed over the last year or so, all entitled ‘They Said I Was an Alternate,’ which interrogates facets of our seriously flawed criminal justice system through the lens of criminal trial and jury duty, though I'm sure my occupation as a teacher greatly informs the poem's approach. It was one of those gift poems that arrives nearly whole and requires little revision, which means the poem was difficult to trust. Anyone who knows me well knows I have long resisted writing overtly political poems, largely because, as a black poet, I felt it was somehow expected of me. And I much prefer to offer the unexpected, yet here we are.”
Nathan McClain