Crowned in hydrogen, it travels incognito,
visiting equally the mansions on Brattle
as the mad and dying in City Hospital,
its warmth bereaving for being impersonal.
Friend to all that dies in spite of its spring heat,
it ghosts across windows of highrises half-built
and brick-faced warehouses
reflected in the river, it makes
the trash trees in alleyways glitter,
acid green stinging as the day clearing of rain…
Come to my friend’s mother painfully swallowing
raging, aphasic, who pushes away her food,
allows herself and her daughter not one word.
Come like the volunteer that strokes
her cheek until her body heat
diffuses, her blood starts to cool…
X-ray eye penetrating to our souls,
show us to ourselves as we bullshit and scheme,
help us to survive our own stung minds
swarming day and night with cock/cunt dreams…
Come as a conqueror whose molten heat
makes sunbathers and street people sack out,
their mouths yawning open to demons
who slip in and out of us whatever our lives,
shed your light on trash cans sprawling in the street,
stir the vacant lots to rank weeds tangling, pushing
through asphalt as no matter what the soil
you guide us toward your heat,
oh blinding father, enemy of blight
who drives us to the shade, give us this hour
to hang by the river and pass around the wine
until our minds buzz like hives of honeyed light.
Tom Sleigh’s books include House of Fact, House of Ruin; Station Zed; Army Cats, which won the John Updike Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; and Space Walk, winner of the Kingsley Tufts Award. His most recent book of essays, The Land between Two Rivers: Writing in an Age of Refugees, recounts his time as a journalist in the Middle East and Africa. He has received the Shelley Prize from the Poetry Society of Ameria, and grants from the Lila Wallace Fund, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Academy in Berlin, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He teaches in the MFA Program at Hunter College and is a contributing editor of AGNI. For more, visit www.tomsleigh.com. (updated 3/2020)
Sleigh’s AGNI poem “After Herodotus” won a Pushcart Prize and was reprinted in the 2006 anthology. “At the Pool” was chosen for The Best American Poetry 2009.
Tom Sleigh and Charles Bardes coauthored “A Viral Exchange, under Lockdown” for the AGNI blog. “An Interview with Tom Sleigh” by Allegra Wong also appears at AGNI Online. Sleigh’s second book, Waking, was reviewed in AGNI 34 by Joseph Lease. His collection The Chain was reviewed in AGNI 43 by Susan Mitchell. His collection The Dreamhouse was reviewed in AGNI 52 by Sven Birkerts.