cover image Waking


Tom Sleigh. University of Chicago Press, $30 (80pp) ISBN 978-0-226-76238-8

Salt--salt of the earth and sea, the salt of tears--it symbolizes transformation in Sleigh's ( After One ) latest volume of poetry , functioning in two distinct phases: in solution and out. Dissolved, salt maintains life; precipitated, it fixes the secret of life and death in a crystalline structure. Sleigh's poems, too, flow along the surface of observation and end with insight, yet they remain merely technical exercises. ``In June,'' a poem that takes place on a beach, is a good example: watching his lover ``lie in the shallows,'' then ``Dive and dissolve/ Into a wave,'' the speaker wonders why there remains between them a lingering distance--``I love you but . . . !'' The last line tells him; he watches his lover sleeping--``Then your sleeping breath unmoored, an island drifting.'' Waking is about this drifting feeling, floating in the heavy atmosphere of experience, that accompanies independence yet reveals an abject ignorance of the self. For all his lofty content and mystical imagery, Sleigh doesn't take g many formal risks or attempt to expand his perceptions into a coherent expression of beliefs. (Oct.)