The Wound

By Tom Sleigh b. 1953 Tom Sleigh
When I woke the darkness was so thick,
So palpable and black that my eyes
Seemed blind as stone staring into stone.
The blade that I had dreamed, efficient and quick
As it cut into my thigh, cleaning a gangrened
Wound infected to the bone, seemed poised
Above my throat: Close-grained, impenetrable,
The blackness rose before me like a wall.
And then off in the next room, nervous, light,
A soft padding as of an animal
Raced like my heartbeat in my temples
Round and round, trapped, stealthily desperate
As if hunting its own track, terrified
And captivated by its own odor.
Skin cool in the night air, eyes drilling
Through the dark, who I was before I
Slept had burned off like a vapor
So that amnesiac and pure, witnessing
My terror that I no longer recognized
As my own, my mind floated beyond me
To confront that frantic, closing footfall
As Jacob dreaming met his dark angel—
Though in my wrestling nothing blessed me
Or promised any blessing; but was a mask whose eyes
Were all black pupil, blind as molten tar.
I strained to see what paced there, my eyes burning
Through the dark until a pair of eyes blazed
Back across the blackness, an insistent, glazed
Staring that shimmered and disappeared.
The shining blade plunged at my throat, my mind
Stretched and twisted, its wires tightening
And turning as the creature lunged back and forth
And with a deep-throated yowling, thrashing
And thrashing to fight clear of its own circling,
Cleanly leapt away. I reached for the knife
But gripped only air, my eyes pressing
Deeper and deeper into the night’s black stone,
Cutting the way the knife had cut into my wound,
Probing for the white shining of the bone:
What had I become? What darkness had my dream
Led me down into? Too frightened even
To move, I lay bound and sweating in
The sheets, the moon a warning-bell beating
On the glass, its light carving out the curtains
Like the shadow of a wing across the windowpane.

Tom Sleigh, "The Wound" from Waking, published by The University of Chicago Press. Copyright © 1990 by Tom Sleigh.  Reprinted by permission of the author.

Source: Waking (The University of Chicago Press, 1990)

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Poet Tom Sleigh b. 1953

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Living, Disappointment & Failure, The Mind, Mythology & Folklore, Horror

Poetic Terms Metaphor, Tercet

 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 Living, Disappointment & Failure, The Mind, Mythology & Folklore, Horror

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Metaphor, Tercet

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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