‘Ark of Bones’ by Henry Dumas

This story first came to me by way of an aside in an essay by Hilton Als, and if Als—a master of so many short forms—admires a thing I head right for it. I’d like to put in a preorder for an imagined future Taschen edition of his Instagram posts.

And yet I find it hard to write about Dumas and, in particular, ‘Ark of Bones’. Dumas was shot and killed by a NYC Transit Police Officer in 1968 and left behind a strange, extraordinary, and only partially realized body of work. I’ve published one overlong essay on Dumas: looking back on it, I wonder if not being able to figure out what makes this story tick sent me down so many of that essay’s cul-de-sacs.

Fish-hound and Headeye and the supernatural ship they find on the river, the ‘Ark of Bones’ are so… real, somehow, as plausible as the river or the South through which it flows. So, too, the river flowing through this writer’s unfinished novel, Jonoah and the Green Stone, is as full of incident and as fearful a world as in Melville’s The Confidence Man or Faulkner’s The Wild Palms, and seems to me more like those than Twain’s river.

All I know for sure is how inexorable I find the opening line of this story: “Headeye, he was following me.”

Included in Echo Tree: The Collection Short Fiction of Henry Dumas, Coffee House Press, 2003, available via The National Humanities Resource Center Toolbox here

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