Day Room

His head rose like a torch in a tomb.
Banquet-style, as at a second Symposium,

The others lounged on couches or lay knocked out.
A net of shadows dangled from wire-meshed windows.

Buffeted there, there, some swam against currents
Or were swept off into underwater canyons.

Visitors, confusion streaming over them, speech
Foaming into eddies, words lolling like jetsam

On the lightless bottom, listened to the news
Of minds crammed in bodies: Here, all was stoic

Or hectic or unspeaking disconnection.
Moving shadows on the TV screen implied

A world out there, though a world more couth,
More uncouth? in four o’clock’s slushy freezing dark:

Plato’s cave loomed in semblance of the walls,
Only wasn’t it the cave as All, no outside

Not inside, nothing more real to go out into?
He peered far down to where dark swam up

From the depthless screen and hovered poised
Above dark-in-light: Sergeant Schultz kept repeating,

“I know nothing, nothing,” his funny-Nazi German accent
As he recoils from his ever sauve tormentor, the American

POW Colonel Hogan who threatens Schultz
With good-humored ruthlessness as bad as a mother

In a supermarket aisle cajoling her greedy-eyed child,
“Ah ah ah—remember the Russian front!”

—Poor Schultz’s accent making him more human in his terror,
Though only an actor acting his lines through

The canned laughter’s bacchic furor sweeping down
The corridor to die in murmurs of slippers shushing.

Cast yourself in it, imagine having to say those lines,
Not just now, but always, eternity a chaos

Of laugh-track frenzy more demonic than funny,
Reruns of Hogan haunted by the actor

Who acts Hogan’s lines, his real-life orgies
Before a secret camera ending in his Glogotha,

His infamy to be bludgeoned and found wrapped
Naked in a shower curtain that hangs

In the mind like the cave’s walls turning outside
Inside outside inside no end or difference inside out

—The almost see-through membrane of a world gone flat:
He hunches forward to change the channel.

Muttering something to Schultz’s “I know nothing, nothing,”
A grim joke maybe, “Ain’t that the truth...” though really,

Who could know what words he was or wasn’t
Answering, who can hear above the roar of

Earth moving under him, trying to throw him off
As he clings to the sofa hurtling through space!

And as he clings, the screen slowly opens and fans out wide
Around the National Broadcasting Corporation peacock

Waving its plumes, flaming blues, greens, radiant vermilions,
Brilliance of the seasons, late-morning pastels

Easy and restful for the brain and eye,
Sempiternal hues Atlantis rose up and sank back into.

And these feather off into grays, solid wintry
Grays that give off nothing and reflect nothing back.

Tom Sleigh, "Day Room" from Far Side of the Earth. Copyright © 2003, by Tom Sleigh. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
Source: Far Side of the Earth (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003)
More Poems by Tom Sleigh