cover image Army Cats

Army Cats

Tom Sleigh. Graywolf, $15 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-55597-583-8

The best work in Sleigh's eighth collection continues his effort to use the fruits of civilization to confront the violence and destruction of our time. The prose piece "%E2%80%98This Thing of Darkness'"%E2%80%94which treats a cellphone video of Saddam Hussein's hanging as a Shakespearean work in progress%E2%80%94gives new resonance to both sources. Other poems of war provide a shocking clarity, as in one in which "the rubble-buried bodies' still living/ relatives kept calling to see who survived" and an ambulance driver has to "take the phone out of the body//part pocket: Hello%E2%80%94no, no, he's here,/right here, but not%E2%80%94" Unfortunately, Sleigh's concern about the poet's role as witness pre-empts many of these same poems, making the speaker the inadvertent star of others' suffering without finding a way to probe what that awkwardness might mean. Several of the poems dealing with childhood, personal relationships, and works of art are too constrained to make full use of a talent that can expansively conjure "Planet Pizza Crust, Planet Souvlaki Scrap,/ Planet of Her Little House of Cardboard on the Corner,// Planet of Her Little House of Rain When It Rains"; others are powerfully realized, such as a tribute to jazz legend Charles Mingus who, in death, sees "Fats coughing blood,/ dead at 23, Bird without wings, but no G-O-D." (May)