poem index

About this poet

Tom Sleigh was born in Mount Pleasant, Texas. He attended the California Institute of the Arts, Evergreen State College, and earned an M.A. from Johns Hopkins University. His most recent collections include Space Walk (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), winner of the Kingsley Tufts Award, and Far Side of the Earth (2003), named an Honor Book by the Massachusetts Society for the Book.

He is the author of After One, winner of the Houghton Mifflin New Poetry Series Prize, 1983; Waking (1990), a New York Times Book Review Notable Book, and a finalist for the Lamont Poetry Prize; The Chain (l996), nominated for the Lenore Marshall Prize; and The Dreamhouse (1999), a selection of the Academy of American Poet’s Poetry Book Club and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. He has also published a translation of Euripides's Herakles (Oxford University Press, 2000), and a book of essays, Interview With a Ghost (Graywolf Press, 2006).

About Sleigh's work, the poet Philip Levine wrote in Ploughshares: "Sleigh's reviewers use words such as 'adept,' 'elegant,' and 'classical.' Reading his new book, I find all those terms beside the point, even though not one is inaccurate. I am struck by the human dramas that are enacted in these poems, the deep encounters that often shatter the participants and occasionally restore them. What delights me most is seeing a poet of his accomplishments and his large and well-earned reputation suddenly veer into a new arena of both our daily and our mythical lives. For the writer, such daring may be its own reward; for the reader, it is thrilling to overhear a writer pushing into greatness."

Seamus Heaney has said of Sleigh’s poems: "Tom Sleigh’s poetry is hard-earned and well founded. I great admire the way it refuses to cut emotional corners and yet achieves a sense of lyric absolution."

Among his many awards are an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letter, the Shelley Award from the Poetry Society of America, an Individual Writer's Award from the Lila Wallace Fund, and grants from the Guggenheim and Ingram Merill Foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown where he is a Writing Committee member. He teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Hunter College and lives in Brooklyn, NY.

A Selected Bibliography

Poetry

After One (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983)
Waking (University Of Chicago Press, 1990)
The Chain (University Of Chicago Press, 1996)
The Dreamhouse (University Of Chicago Press, 1999)
Far Side of the Earth (Mariner Books, 2005)
Space Walk (Houghton Mifflin, 2007)

Prose

Interview With a Ghost (Graywolf Press, 2006)

Translation

Herakles by Euripides (Oxford University Press, 2000)

On the Platform

Tom Sleigh
1
The omen I didn't know I was waiting for
pulled into the station the same instant as the train.
It was just a teenage boy busking on the platform,
cello cutting through garble, Bach's repetitions

hard-edged as a scalpel probing an open wound. 
But then I kept thinking how a sound wave 
travels the path of least resistance, 
how the notes rebound off steel and stone 

the same as a blast wave shattering row on row
of windows as it swerves through the city.
And when the music stops, on the balcony

above the rubble, coffee and tea are served. 
And if there's sugar, is it one lump or two
and did you hear what happened to Mrs. So and So?

2
I saw, out from under the grime, whiskers 
dipping into clear water that trickled between 
the rails to get the feel of what was near—
the same scene as on the church wall, the slimy brethren

gathered at the river, one gnawing 
an ear of corn, the rest intently listening  
to Francis teaching them their catechism
about the wild man John and his crucified cousin.

Except they were birds in the painting, not rats.
But let's go with that, let them stand 
on hind legs and sniff incense and myrrh

wafting down from high up in the air
so that one day on miraculous, fly paper feet
they'll scale the golden walls and storm the high ground.

3
Nothing moving on the platform, nothing for miles. 
And then a shovel clanging against paving stone
like an old man clearing rubble while a rat climbs a vine
and looks into the broken window and smells the smells.

Rubble shoulder high after two weeks work,
a toilet with a sink and a light on a pull chain
stand framed at the end of the gravel walk
already sprouting suckers leafing out more green

from the fire that scorched the burned out bush.
Ten years, fifteen, and tree limbs shade the bedrooms
and branch out window frames toward the sun.

And where the electric pump pumped water for the town
the wellhead lies broken and two clear streams
wear ruts in the floor of the wrecked house.

Copyright © 2010 by Tom Sleigh. Used with permission of the author.

Tom Sleigh

Tom Sleigh

Tom Sleigh was born in Mount Pleasant, Texas. He attended the California

by this poet

poem
I had a blueprint
of history
in my head —

it was a history of the martyrs
of love, the fools
of tyrants, the tyrants
themselves weeping
at the fate of their own soldiers —

a sentimental blueprint,
lacking depth —
a ruled axis X and Y
whose illusions
were bearable . . .
then unbearable . . .

In that blueprint
poem
Out of the stone ark that carried them this far
in their two by two progress up to here,
they've outlived everyone
and everything they've known—

he in his fishscales up to his waist, she
in her grunge hairdo of stone:
and on each face no guilt for surviving,
no stony comprehension

of all they've left behind,
poem

(Note: a space station generates gravity by revolving one way and then another. When it reverses direction to revolve the other way, there are several moments when gravity is suspended.)

My mother and I and the dog were floating
Weightless in the kitchen. Silverware
Hovered above the table. Napkins