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)

Space Station

Tom Sleigh

(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 drifted
Just below the ceiling. The dead who had been crushed
By gravity were free to move about the room,
To take their place at supper, lift a fork, knife, spoon—
A spoon, knife, fork that, outside this moment's weightlessness,
Would have been immovable as mountains.

My mother and I and the dog were orbiting
In the void that follows after happiness
Of an intimate gesture: Her hand stroking the dog's head
And the dog looking up, expectant, into her eyes:
The beast gaze so direct and alienly concerned
To have its stare returned; the human gaze
That forgets, for a moment, that it sees
What it's seeing and simply, fervently, sees...

But only for a moment. Only for a moment were my mother
And the dog looking at each other not mother
Or dog but that look—I couldn't help but think,
If only I were a dog, or Mother was,
Then that intimate gesture, this happiness passing
Could last forever...such a vain, hopeless wish
I was wishing; I knew it and didn't know it
Just as my mother knew she was my mother

And didn't...and as for the dog, her large black pupils,
Fixed on my mother's faintly smiling face,
Seemed to contain a drop of the void
We were all suspended in; though only a dog
Who chews a ragged rawhide chew toy shaped
Into a bone, femur or cannonbone
Of the heavy body that we no longer labored
To lift against the miles-deep air pressing

Us to our chairs. The dog pricked her ears,
Sensing a dead one approaching. Crossing the kitchen,
My father was moving with the clumsy gestures
Of a man in a space suit—the strangeness of death
Moving among the living—though the world
Was floating with a lightness that made us
Feel we were phantoms: I don't know
If my mother saw him—he didn't look at her

When he too put his hand on the dog's head
And the dog turned its eyes from her stare to his...
And then the moment on its axis reversed,
The kitchen spun us the other way round
And pressed heavy hands down on our shoulders
So that my father sank into the carpet,
My mother rested her chin on her hand
And let her other hand slide off the dog's head,

Her knuckles bent in a kind of torment
Of moonscape erosion, ridging up into
Peaks giving way to seamed plains
With names like The Sea of Tranquility
—Though nothing but a metaphor for how
I saw her hand, her empty, still strong hand
Dangling all alone in the infinite space
Between the carpet and the neon-lit ceiling.

Copyright © 2005 by Tom Sleigh. Previously appeared in The Threepenny Review. Reprinted with permission.

Tom Sleigh

Tom Sleigh

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

by this poet

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

1
The cathedral being built 
around our split level house was so airy, it stretched 
so high it was like a cloud of granite 
and marble light the house rose up inside. 

At the time I didn’t notice masons laying courses 
of stone ascending, flying buttresses 
pushing
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