The Advance

By Tom Sleigh b. 1953 Tom Sleigh
1

Out the barred window sandbags
in a sagging wall surround the guard post
where a soldier half-hidden by the flag
holds his rifle on his knees and looks a little lost.

It’s Sunday and quiet, the traffic noise
off aways, the sea behind the post flat as the tarps
pulled tight over the troop trucks.
Somewhere down the hall soldiers are being boys,

telling some joke in Arabic
in which I’m pretty sure I hear the word “zubrak”:
I walk between shelves loaded with canned rations,

the cool expiring slowly in the high-ceilinged room
while a pinned-up PSYOPS leaflet declares,
If you sleep in a cemetery, you’re bound to have nightmares.


2

No one sees the doll’s decapitated head small
and neat in rubble. Never tired or sleepy,
the head is its own country
obstinately surviving, the pupil

of   its one eye peering through the glass’s pure
transparency. And a few feet away lie its slim, plastic,
long-legged thighs almost like
an obscenity the eye watches over —

no one in the street, nothing but bolt-marks
from tank-treads scarring the concrete
to give any of   it drama — and what

about the way the lips’ frozen smirk
keeps daring me to touch the sexless V
between the thighs staring up at me?


3

The barracks dissolve into a reef   of   rubble in the fog.
On either side of the road, crater after crater
flashes with glints of glass, plastic bags,
a chair leg clinging to a dismembered chair.

The TV station, the power stacks
thrusting up through mist, the black-bearded posters
and banners strung across
the streets lead to an absolute nowhere:

all that’s left in the emptied town
after the army pulled out are PSYOPS leaflets
fluttering up around the car that winds

down the coast road deeper into mist, headlights
probing like instruments in a wound
they illuminate the more they violate.

NOTES: Read the Q&A with Tom Sleigh about this poem

Source: Poetry (December 2012).

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This poem originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

December 2012
 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 . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Social Commentaries, War & Conflict

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Series/Sequence

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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