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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 several books of poetry, including House of Fact, House of Ruin (Graywolf Press, 2018); Station Zed (Graywolf Press, 2015); Army Cats (Graywolf Press, 2011), winner of the John Updike Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; Space Walk (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), winner of the Kingsley Tufts Award; and Far Side of the Earth (Houghton Mifflin, 2003), winner of an Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. 

He has also published a translation of Euripides's Herakles and two books of essays, The Land between Two Rivers: Poetry in an Age of Refugees (Graywolf Press, 2018) and 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."

Sleigh has also worked as a journalist in Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Kenya, Iraq, and Libya. He has received the Shelley Prize from the Poetry Society of America, 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.

Selected Bibliography

House of Fact, House of Ruin (Graywolf Press, 2018)
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)

The Land between Two Rivers: Poetry in an Age of Refugees (Graywolf Press, 2018)
Interview With a Ghost (Graywolf Press, 2006)

Herakles by Euripides (Oxford University Press, 2000)

Second Sight

In my fantasy of fatherhood, in which I’m
your real father, not just the almost dad
arriving through random channels of divorce,
you and I don’t lie to one another—
shrugging each other off when words
get the best of us but coming
full circle with wan smiles.
When you hole up inside yourself,
headphones and computer screen
taking you away, I want to feel in ten years
that if I’m still alive you’ll still look
at me with that same wary expectancy,
your surreptitious cool-eyed appraisal
debating if my love for you is real.
Am I destined to be those shark-faced waves
that my death will one day make you enter?
You and your mother make such a self-sufficient pair—
in thrift stores looking for your prom dress,
what father could stand up to your unsparing eyes
gauging with such erotic calculation
your figure in the mirror? Back of it all, when I 
indulge my second sight, all I see are dead zones:
no grandchildren, no evenings at the beach, no bonfires
in a future that allows one glass of wine
per shot of insulin. Will we both agree
that I love you, always, no matter
my love’s flawed, aging partiality?
My occupation now is to help you be alone.

Originally published in Station Zed (Graywolf Press, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Thomas Sleigh. Used with the permission of the poet.

Originally published in Station Zed (Graywolf Press, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Thomas Sleigh. Used with the permission of the poet.

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


(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

Once I cleared the chopper’s wapwapwap
the airstrip opened up into a treeless drift of sand
where I heard a distant hammer tap against the wind

and smelled scorched concrete wafting from shellholes
in the runway. Then, we were speeding along
in the back of an open truck,

its axles shuddering over
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 back forces that would have crushed our