09 May 2009

Tom Sleigh

[from Tom Sleigh's Space Walk, Houghton Mifflin, 2007]


Oh yes, banality of mind to think
itself safe just because out there you
can see the first faint green of unkillable

weeds spring up in the sidings,
thistles that by summer will shake
and sway in breeze the trains

set swirling . . . oh yes, this fool's
paradise my mind lives in, thinking
to make itself secure: moving through

the days, rounding each corner,
nerve-endings like radar scan
the ether for this new tremor

passing in a dream through the body
of a soldier or through my wife's hand
lifting to drink a glass of water,

unnoticed in the day-to-day crisis chatter --
an animal alertness sensing in the air
some predator closing, the soft footpads

setting off minute vibrations so infinitely
penetrant they cleave earth's core
so that trees coming into leaf quake with it

so subtly nobody can see, only sense
that quaking until you feel it
upsetting some balance tipping

tipping, gone suddenly too far, tumbling
over and over, arms reaching
out to grab grabbing only air.


read the caption on a protest sign --

but where, oh where is the holy idiot,
truth teller and soothsayer, familiar

of spirits, rat eater, unhouseled wanderer
whose garble and babble fill rich and poor,

homeless and housed, with awe and fear?
Is he hiding in the pit of the walkie-talkie,

its grid of holes insatiably hungry,
almost like a baby, sucking in the police sergeant's

quiet voice as he calls in reinforcements?
Oh holy idiot, is that you sniffing the wind

for the warm turd smell on the mounted policemen
backing their horses' quivering, skittish

haunches into the demonstrators' faces?
Oh little village among the villages,

the wild man, the holy Bedlamite is gone,
and nobody, now, knows where to find him . . .

Lying in mud? lying caked in mud, hair elfed into knots?
Some poor mad Tom roving the heath

for a warm soft place to lay his body down,
his speech obsessed with oaths, demons,

his tongue calling forth the Foul Fiend, Flibbertigibbet
as the horses back slowly, slowly into the crowd

and he eats filth, he crams his ravenous mouth with filth --
and then he sits on his stool in the trampled hay

and deep-rutted mud, he anoints himself
with ashes and clay, he puts on his crown

of fumiter weed and holds his scepter
of a smouldering poker and calls the court to order.

Buy Tom Sleigh's book @ Amazon

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