By Tom Sleigh b. 1953 Tom Sleigh
Branching the way blind fingers splay across
The face they’re reading, trees trace the backyard
Ditch sop that their shadows drop off into
           an abyss where I hear a neighbor boy’s
Voice cursing an exhilarated, out of its mind,

          Unappeasably inventive flow of
“Fuck fuck motherfuck” ecstasy that maybe
He imagines the neighborhood can't hear?—
                                                               or is his tongue wired
To some source of inspired but as yet unknown
Intelligence that radiates from all of us and he

          Is its mouthpiece, speaking it to the trees
That screen him from me listening to his
Unrelenting arias, predestined like birdsong
Flowing unbidden, of four-letter almost
Erotic keening over something I know too,

          Everybody knows?—
                                       and even if all it is
Is the “fuck fuck motherfuck” ecstasy
Of April budding in his mouth and sending down
Roots to some anti-self that sprouts and shadows
Him as it croons and shouts the song of its difference—

          Even then, this Billy whom I don’t think twice about
When we meet in the alley and slap palms
Or I see him playing alone on the swings of big kids’ slide,
Even then is he the vessel
                                          of some signal that uses us,
Down in the abyss irradiating him so that just this instant

          Whatever that other uses him for he can’t resist:
His voice an instrument of blissed-out torment
Until that grip flings him loose—
Who knows which of us it chooses to penetrate
Next, making us suddenly sweat or shiver,

That influence bathing everything budding
                                                             in profane rays.

Tom Sleigh, "Vessel" from Far Side of the Earth. Copyright © 2003, by Tom Sleigh. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Source: Far Side of the Earth (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003)

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Poet Tom Sleigh b. 1953

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 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 Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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