Fable

By Tom Sleigh b. 1953 Tom Sleigh

A little village in Texas has lost its idiot.
-Caption on a protest sign

Let us deal justly.
-Edgar, disguised as Poor Tom, from Shakespeare's King Lear; act 3, scene 6

But where, oh where is the holy idiot,
truth teller and soothsayer, familiar

of spirits, rat eater, unhouseled wanderer
whose garble and babble fill rich and poor,

homeless and housed, with awe and fear?
Is he hiding in the pit of the walkie-talkie,

its grid of holes insatiably hungry,
almost like a baby, sucking in the police sergeant's

quiet voice as he calls in reinforcements?
Oh holy idiot, is that you sniffing the wind

for the warm turd smell on the mounted policemen
backing their horses' quivering, skittish

haunches into the demonstrators' faces?
Oh little village among the villages,

the wild man, the holy Bedlamite is gone,
and nobody, now, knows where to find him...

Lying in mud? lying caked in mud, hair elfed into knots?
Some poor mad Tom roving the heath

for a warm soft place to lie his body down,
his speech obsessed with oaths, demons,

his tongue calling forth the Foul Fiend, Flibbertigibbet
as the horses back slowly, slowly into the crowd

and he eats filth, he crams his ravenous mouth with filth—
and then he sits on his stool in the trampled hay

and deep-rutted mud, he anoints himself
with ashes and clay, he puts on his crown

of fumiter weed and holds his scepter
of a smouldering poker and calls the court to order.

Source: Poetry (June 2005).

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This poem originally appeared in the June 2005 issue of Poetry magazine

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June 2005
 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 War & Conflict, History & Politics, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

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