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About this poet

Tom Sleigh was born in Mount Pleasant, Texas. He attended the California Institute of the Arts and Evergreen State College, and earned an MA from Johns Hopkins University. Sleigh is the author of nine books of poetry; his most recent collections include Army Cats (Graywolf Press, 2011), winner of the John Updike Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and Space Walk (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), winner of the Kingsley Tufts Award. His new book, Station Zed, will be published by Graywolf Press in 2015. He has also published a translation of Euripides's Herakles and a book of essays, Interview With a Ghost (Graywolf Press, 2006).

Widely anthologized, his poems and prose have appeared in The New YorkerVirginia Quarterly ReviewPoetryAmerican Poetry ReviewYale Review, ThreepennyThe Village Voice, and other literary magazines, as well as The Best of the Best American Poetry (Scribner, 2013), The Best American Poetry, The Best American Travel Writing, and The Pushcart Anthology

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."

Sleigh has received the Shelley Prize from the Poetry Society of America, an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an Individual Writer's Award from the Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Fund, and fellowships from the American Academy in Berlin, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, among many others. He is a Distinguished Professor in the MFA program at Hunter College and lives in Brooklyn.

A Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Station Zed (Graywolf Press, 2015)
Army Cats (Graywolf Press, 2011)
Space Walk (Houghton Mifflin, 2007)
Far Side of the Earth (Houghton Mifflin, 2003)
The Dreamhouse (University of Chicago Press, 1999)
The Chain (University of Chicago Press, 1996)
Waking (University of Chicago Press, 1990)
After One (Houghton Mifflin, 1983)

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.

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

Tom Sleigh

Tom Sleigh

Tom Sleigh is the author of nine books of poetry, a translation of Euripides' Herakles, and a book of essays. 

by this poet

poem
He said, "It is terrible what happens."
           And "So, Mr. Tom,
do not forget me"—an old-fashioned ring, pop tunes,
salsa! salsa! the techno-version of Beethoven's
Fifth, Fairouz singing how love has arrived,
that's what he heard after they dropped the bombs,
his ambulance crawling through smoke while
poem
Because the burn's unstable, burning too hot
in the liquid hydrogen suction line
and so causing vortices in the rocket fuel 

flaming hotter and hotter as the "big boy"
blasts off, crawling painfully slowly 
up the blank sky, then, when he blinks 

exploding white hot against his wincing
retina, the fireball's
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,