from "House of Fact, House of Ruin"

"House of Fact, House of Ruin" is the newest collection from poet Tom Sleigh. Released in February by Graywolf Press, we're thrilled to offer you this preview, with links to order from Graywolf and Amazon. "Very much of our present moment, in which fact can so easily be manufactured and ruin so easily achieved by pressing 'Send' or pulling a trigger, these poems range across the landscapes of contemporary experience. Whether a militia in Libya or a military base in Baghdad, a shantytown in east Africa or an opulent mall on Long Island, these subjects and locations resonate with the psychic and social costs of having let the genie of war, famine, and climate change out of the lamp in the first place."

The Fox

Marine helicopters on maneuver kept dipping
toward swells at Black's Beach, my board's poise
giving way to freefall of my wave tubing

over me, nubs of wax under my feet as I crouched
under the lip, sped across the face and kicked out—
all over Southern Cal a haze settled: as if light breathed

that technicolor smog at sunset over
San Diego Harbor where battleships at anchor,
just back from patrolling the South China Sea, were

having rust scraped off and painted gray.
This was my inheritance that lay stretched before me:
Which is when I felt the underbrush give way

and the fox that thrives in my brain,
not looking sly but just at home in his pelt
and subtle paws, broke from cover and ran

across the yard into the future to sniff my gravestone,
piss, and move on. And so I was reborn into
my long nose and ears, my coat's red, white, and brown

giving off my fox smell lying heavy on the winds
in the years when I'd outsmart guns, poison,
dogs and wire, when the rooster and his hens

clucked and ran, crazy with terror
at how everything goes still in that way a fox adores,
gliding through slow-motion drifts of feathers.


It isn't camels and sheep and an underground house
or an abandoned oasis, the shaded grass littered with fallen dates.

It isn't tankers lined up on the horizon,
or sand dunes asking nothing and giving nothing as they creep.

It isn't the sculpture of a golden fist crushing a fighter jet,
or graffiti shouting Death or Freedom.

It's the way vodka in the house of the imam
can be hidden in a plastic water bottle.

It's Ashur's unpublished papers on prostrate cancer,
the patient with the catheter released from the hospital

for just one night who goes home to his wife
and they figure out a way to make love.

It's what the German doctor whose name means "joy"
meant by the psychopathology of nations.

It's the joke about bullets being fired off into the air
because the air makes such a good target not even a blind man can miss.

It's not the houses burned, the young men shot or kidnapped,
it's not the anti-aircraft guns positioned where your house was.

It's what no one will say about what no one else will say.
It's what anyone who knows what they shouldn't say knows.

It's what the Revolution whispers about one war everywhere
in the ear of a drone watching a camel

rippling through heatwaves on a screen.

Before Rain

Whatever you do, there are rockets falling,
and after the rockets, smoke climbing

up through walls that are exploding.
Trees grow up where there once were people, weeds

take over beds of lettuces and coddled flowers,
uprearing mole hills unpopulate the fields.

The bricked-in hours of the human have all been knocked down.

No one lingers at lipstick counters, no one
stares into a screen to escape the digital mayhem

of heroes hurdling over the heads of monsters.

The old bones on the mountain that stand upright
and shake when winds blow up from the shore,

old bones that shake when the winds roar

now dangle in the void of an unknown dimension.

Forget all this, says Earth to the stars.

That Word

i.m. Philip Levine

He sits reading under his desk lamp,

he loves how wind distresses tail and mane,
he likes the rhymes internal and irregular, 
how people from the old days walk in and out 
of the poem, how the father who dies 
in one stanza can rise in another, how, despite 
the drought, the rain keeps falling in fourteen lines.
His rumpled bed is never not specific
as the dent his head leaves in the pillow.
He rubs his hand across his jaw, unshaven,
his touch on the back of your wrist is delicate 
and urgent, when you help him up from bed, 
he isn't shy about holding on, when he lies 
back down, he grips his water bottle and won't 
let go. Smiling, says: Let's not use that word: 
it's been used ten thousand eight-hundred 
and seventy-six times. He shrugs off the weepers, 
the brotherly lovers, the sour preachers turning 
purple and blue in their dandruff-sprinkled robes.
Out in his backyard in Fresno, the oranges are ripening.
At his window in Brooklyn, the plane trees, 
stripped bare of leaves, click softly in the breeze.
Him in his undershirt, in his tweed jacket,
in sweat pants watching Norman Schemansky clean and jerk. 
Now he's throwing rocks on the bridle path,
he's turning into a fox, the brush of his tail
mocks the pack, he leaps clear of his own tracks,
doubles back, loses the lords and ladies riding.
Now he's preaching to rats, showing them pages
in Holy Books, Money Books, Books of the Entitled
that are good to eat and chew right down. 
But all alone in his study with ice and sun, he scrawls 
with his fountain pen, crosses it all out, starts again:
and this time rising up are the sheared away walls 
of an abandoned highschool, a stack of rusted axles, 
a diner where nobody talks openly 
of love but where ketchup and mockery 
are served up with the coffee and his heart,
arrhythmic, pulses out of synch, all on its own.


i.m. Mark Strand

Mark came into the room and said, Tom, you have
the face of a dog. Alan, you have the face
of a horse. And me, I have the face of—

but Mark couldn't decide what kind of face
he had, or else I couldn't in the dream
remember or maybe it was that the dream

couldn't remember. And in the second part
of the dream Mark came into the room smiling
and laughing, and after a while he left the room

and Alan said, It's only natural he wants 
to have a good time. And when Mark didn't come
back for a while, I went looking for him,

and though I knew where he was, I couldn't find him. 
And in the third part of the dream, Mark came
back into the room and said, No, Alan, you 

have the face of a dog, Tom, you have 
the face of a horse, and me, I have—
but he never did say what kind of face he had.

And in the fourth part of the dream, Mark came 
back into the room and said, No, no, it's me! 
I have the face of a horse! I have the face of a dog!

And in the fifth part of the dream—
but there was no fifth part of the dream—
only Alan, me, horse, dog, and Mark 

coming and going, coming and going in the room.