After Vallejo

By Tom Sleigh b. 1953 Tom Sleigh
intensity and height

I want to write, but only foam comes out,
I want to say so much but it’s all crap — 
there aren’t any numbers left that can’t be added up,
nobody writes down pyramids without meaning it.

I want to write, but I’ve got a puma’s brains;
I want to crown myself with laurel, but it stinks of onions.
There’s no word spoken that doesn’t dissolve in mist,
there’s no god and no son of god, only progress.

So come on, to hell with it, let’s go eat weeds,
eat the flesh and fruit of our stupid
tears and moans, of our pickled melancholy souls.

Come on! Let’s go! So what if   I’m wounded — let’s go
drink what’s already been drunk,
let’s go, crow, and find another crow to fuck.

hat, coat, gloves

Right in front of the Comédie-Française
is the Regency Cafe; and right inside it, there’s this room, hidden,
with a table and an easy chair. When I go in,
house dust, already on its feet, stands motionless.

Between my lips made of rubber, a cigarette butt
smolders, and in the smoke you can see two intensive
smokes, the cafe’s thorax, and in that
thorax an oxide of elemental grief.

It matters that autumn grafts itself into other autumns,
it matters that autumn merges into young shoots,
the cloud into half-years, cheekbones into a wrinkle.

It’s crucial to smell like a madman who spouts
theories about how hot snow is, how fugitive the turtle,
the “how” how easy, how deadly the “when.”

best case

Look, at the very best, I’m someone other —
some guy who walks around marble statues, who enters
his adult clay into indexes of blood, and feels
the rage and fear of the fox chased to its hole —

and if someone anoints my shoulders
with indigos of mercy, I’ll declare
to my absent soul that there’s no hellishly
paradisal elsewhere for me to go.

And if they try to choke me on the sea’s wafer,
telling me it tastes like His flesh, more acid
than sweet, like Kant’s notions of truth, I’ll cough

it all up: No, never! I’m other as a germ, a satanic
tubercle, a moral ache in a plesiosaur’s molar:
in my posthumous suspicions, all bets are off!

another day of life

I’ll die in my apartment on a cold bright day,
with nobody around, the apartment next door gone
dead still while wind whistles through the balcony,
though the branches somehow aren’t moving, just as the sun

doesn’t move, everything’s so quiet, so frozen.
Parked cars, plastic bags bleached in the bare trees,
a couple of those Mylar balloons tied to a chair on
the balcony next door, celebrating something, maybe?

... now sagging listless on the floor,
as if every last molecule had been pierced by a needle —
Tom Sleigh is dead, he stared up into the air,

the sky was pale blue as usual and he couldn’t feel
the cold coming through the window, and there wasn’t
much to say or not say — and nobody, anyway, to say or not say it.

my jailer won’t weep to be my liberator

My cell’s four walls, whitening in the sun,
keep counting one another — but their number
never changes, despite my jailer’s
innumerable keys to chains

wrenching the nerves to their extremities.
The two longer walls hurt me more — who knows why —
their salt-stained cracks like two mothers who die
after labor, but give birth to twin boys

whose hands they still hold. And here I am,
all alone, with just my right hand to make do
for both hands, raising it high into

the air to search for the third arm
that between my where and my when
will father this crippled coming-of-age of a man.

insomnia is the only prayer left

How childish is the spectacle of the stained
glass’s holiness: the night doesn’t give a shit what
goes on inside human beings, the night
has its own web of dendrites refuting the inane

prayers prayed for the dying, for the confessions
going on between earthworms and earth, between
the way a man argues with his own shoulder bones.
All the while, barracudas in a coral canyon,

a sea turtle flying, swim through fathoms
and fathoms of images that keep crashing
on the shore of the eye that never shuts —

and smarts in its sleeplessness staring
up into the dark shadowed by stingrays, gas stations,
the slow flapping wing of a lottery ticket.

Source: Poetry (May 2014).


This poem originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Poetry magazine

May 2014
 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, Life Choices, The Mind, Time & Brevity

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Series/Sequence

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