cover image Space Walk

Space Walk

Tom Sleigh, . . Houghton Mifflin, $22 (101pp) ISBN 978-0-618-68424-3

Sleigh (The Far Side of the Earth) has slowly, and justly, won a reputation for his clean-lined, sinewy poems about tough men, wounded bodies and all the forms of strength—intellectual, moral, aural, physical, emotional. His seventh book of verse is not his most striking, but may be his saddest and most humane. Stanzas about Homeric violence, and about its modern counterparts, frame understated, nearly tearful depictions of troubled lovers (gay and straight), grieving survivors and the last days of the poet's father, "moving with the clumsy gestures/ Of a man in a space suit—the strangeness of death/ Moving among the living." A Gerhardt Richter painting conjures reincarnations of Hercules, compelled by mean gods to "the fate he must fulfill, slaughtering/ with his club whatever comes into his way"; drag shows suggest obituaries; radio broadcasts look forward to the Earth's end; and the Middle East, ancient and modern, echoes with emblems of oblivion: "We will be covered by the dune,/ and uncovered in time." Body and mind, for Sleigh, must die together, and their mutual sadness, incomprehension and struggle generates each poem. This serious focus, the well-managed ancient Greek analogues and the wrung-out credibility of the best stanzas belong to nobody but Sleigh. (Mar.)