The Last Word

By Tom Sleigh b. 1953 Tom Sleigh

for Lem 

As if your half-witted tongue
Spoke with an eloquence
Death bestows, I heard your voice
Muffled through the dark
Layers of cemetery loam:
 
“They found me black-suited
In the shuttered half-dark, my eyes
Dug like claws into the clouds’
Soft feather-turnings. What kept me
Separate the broiling sun
 
Of intellect now shone on fiercely:
In the sheep-pens stinking
Of dung and lanolin,
I buried my face in the ewe’s
Swollen side and listened
 
For the lamb the way
The night sky listens
To the synapse-fire
Of meteors, the fibrillating
Heartbeat of the stars.
 
I heard the cells crackle
Into being, the embryonic
Brain begin to burn:
Hunger. Thirst. Beneath my ear
My own disastrous birthing,
 
The umbilicus strangling
Like a whip around my neck,
Shoved through the momentary
Breach memory tore open—
Dying revealed to me my birth,
 
How half my brain went dark,
One side of a universe
Pinched out like a candle:
Just smart enough to sense
My difference, yet not know why—
 
Even my death was the thrust
Of a bewildering punchline: On Thanksgiving
Morning mouthwatering
Pain shoved like a spit
From my bowels to my brain.”


Tom Sleigh, "The Last Word" 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, Death, The Body, Relationships, Friends & Enemies

 Tom  Sleigh

Biography

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, Death, The Body, Relationships, Friends & Enemies

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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