Song That Can Only Be Sung Once

By Tom Sleigh b. 1953 Tom Sleigh

After Porfirio Barba Jacob’s Canción De La Vida Profunda

Variable, changeable, yes, there are days when
people like us are like that. Maybe under   

some other sky something like glory smiles on us,   
maybe there life is clear, maybe there things open up   

on the way the sea stretches out to the horizon—
but us, we’re blown by chance the way wind blows

blades of grass lightly blowing them all one way.

And then there are days when we feel April,
the fields of April making us feel our bodies

longing to be held and fucked into oblivion,
bodies fertile as a field in April, swollen,   

trembling to be touched: and under the influences
of rains pouring down as if pure spirit poured

into us like rain, that thing called “soul”
sprouts and branches and entangles us

in lush bowers and thickets of illusion.

Oh yes, days come along when we’re calm, clear
—childhood sunsets, lagoons rippling sapphire!—

days when a verse, a sudden whistle, days when a mountain   
and bird passing over it, days when even our own pain

and what we feel it to be like make us smile.
And sure, there are days when we're so   
disgusting, so sordid to ourselves

it’s like we’re dark stone in the darkness   
inside flint: then nighttime surprises us,   

its lamplight dizzying, cold, profuse, glinting   
off tossed coins of the good, the terrible

shining with the gleam of that primal metal.

And other days come, come when women
want to cry their come cries and use us   

as their own, days when we’re itching to get   
a woman naked, and then we can’t face it, can’t   

stand it somehow, they want us but we don’t know   
how to want them back: arm tightening around   

a waist, hand cupping a breast, we don’t dare   
touch the roundness of an apple or a pear,

the round earth spins us off into space.

And then there arrive days so dismal and stupefied
and numb that the idiot soughing of a pine grove

sounds like weeping: and what some idiot called
the soul whines and wails and carries on

with what some other idiot calls “the pain of the world”:
and maybe not God himself, that absolute fool,
can make that wind less cutting, or make it stop.

And then there comes, certain to come, oh my earth
I love beyond any of my days, a day . . . a day . . . a day

when my sail catches the wind and drags the anchor
up out of the bottom muck, and nothing can withstand

that wind blowing by, talking to itself, talking, talking . . .   
and the day is mine and yours and every living thing’s . . .   

the day when nobody and nothing can keep us
from getting up and going, no matter who we are . . .

the day when our leaving is the same as our arriving.

Source: Poetry (July/August 2008).


This poem originally appeared in the July/August 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

July/August 2008
 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, Relationships, Love, Men & Women, Nature, Spring, Romantic Love, Desire, Realistic & Complicated

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

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