cover image The Dreamhouse

The Dreamhouse

Tom Sleigh. University of Chicago Press, $14 (113pp) ISBN 978-0-226-75049-1

From Heracles and Horace to headlights and homelessness, Sleigh's raw and often-compelling fourth book of poetry builds on his familiar strengths: hard-chiseled lines and stanzas mix versions of Greek and Latin prayers and myths, contemporary confessional lyric and portraits of mentally ill urban wanderers whose persistence Sleigh pities and admires. An attentive 11-section sequence about the life, death and immortality of Heracles stands among Sleigh's best work: ""Before him the underworld/ shrinks to an arrow's tip, behind him his past bleeds into a vapor trail/ until he is nothing but the momentum he feels gathering/ as the bow bends and the tensing fingers curl."" Sleigh's Attic clarity adapts almost as well to the barroom and automobile as to the bow and arrow: in the guilt-ridden downtown of ""The Grid,"" a man collapses on a sidewalk, ""the police hoist him by his armpits and sockless ankles,"" and Sleigh reflects: ""The waters wear the stones. My face is foul with weeping/ and on my eyelids is the shadow of death."" As in previous books (Waking; The Chain) Sleigh can sound slightly like Thom Gunn, Frank Bidart or Robert Pinsky, though rarely like any one for the length of a poem. (As with Pinsky, simple clarity can become for him an end instead of a means.) Sleigh chooses the scarred over the polished, the unadorned over the elaborate, and the sublimely accurate over the beautiful. His most personal work, in a sequence of love poems and one about his late father, is paradoxically his least individuated: his ""father's face/ quizzical, half-angry, pinched by death/ and then, at the end grown grave, calm"" could be the face of many poets' parents, but Sleigh's tormented Greek heroes are his alone. (Nov.)