A Visit

By Tom Sleigh b. 1953 Tom Sleigh
What she is waiting for never arrives
or arrives so slowly she can't see it:
         Like the river
         bluing silver

and wearing minutely deeper into its channel,
the flow hardens to carved stone as she fidgets
         beneath the whirling fan
         impatient for the train

that rocks us above the water to arrive:
Her sisters and brothers gone, she ventures alone
         through sunlight
         and moonlight

weaving shadowy faces across the peeling walls...
—Speeding toward her, is it you and me she spies
         in the trembling train
         windows while the engine

hauls us down rails that swerve under wheels
rolling through her brain? Faces burn
         through dirty glass,
         smears of lips and eyes

dissolve to spots of darkness swarming between
her eyes so that swaying apartment towers
         crumble as her nostrils
         prickle from the landfill's

ammonia that hangs above the stacked, crushed cars.
The rails that take us to her pass boxcar after boxcar
         like the successive selves we are
         as she dreams us coming closer,

switching track to track: Now the super unbolts
her door as she calls: “Oh is it really you?”
         —the wheel's rolling
         through her head bringing

us face to face with raveled bandages, crutches
leaned in dusty corners, terraced mountains of
         yellowing newspaper.
         Framed above her chair

a picture of a prairie sprawls round a covered wagon
and the horse she rode as a girl, her eyes
         fading points of light...
         Again she calls out

above the train's approaching rumble: “Is it you at last?”
My eyes have got so bad peoples’ faces
         are all blurry...Now
         tell me, is it really you?”

But already the rails are switching, bearing
our waving hands away at the speed of thought
         over the stony waters that
         ceaselessly pour out.

Tom Sleigh, "A Visit" from The Dreamhouse. Copyright © 1999. Reprinted with the permission of The University of Chicago Press.

Source: The Dreamhouse (The University of Chicago Press, 1999)

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Poet Tom Sleigh b. 1953

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Growing Old, Health & Illness, Living

Poetic Terms Metaphor

 Tom  Sleigh


Tom Sleigh is the author of more than half a dozen volumes of poetry. Space Walk (2007) won the 2008 Kingsley Tufts Award and earned Sleigh considerable critical acclaim. Referring to this collection, poet Philip Levine noted, “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 . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Growing Old, Health & Illness, Living

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Metaphor

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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