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Summer 2016

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1

It was said to be terrible, her temper,
but even more terrible was how she lost it—I mean lost it
in the sense that trees lose leaves,

in that after she lay down on the table
and they gave her electroshock,
her anger simply fell away from her:

it was like watching something or someone musical
go hopelessly, and forever, out of tune.
For the other side of her disease,

the passivity, the compassionating hopelessness
that afflicted her whenever her rage fell away,
now took over—and she saw all too clearly

her exposure high on the cliffs to the hungry beaks
that, in her lack of anger, she could no longer
beat back as they swooped down to peck and eat.

Of course none of this happened inside the analytical logics
of my sentences, both too precise and not precise
enough: the flat affect and opacity of her eyes

turned her into a stranger standing just outside the asylum
doorway, staring at children on the lawn on a visiting Sunday
who kept swinging badminton rackets at a birdie,

playing without a net because they’d been told
by other children that the patients weren’t allowed
nets because they’d try to steal them

and use them as ladders to escape from their windows
or, worse, try to hang themselves—so she stands there,
and also here, in my sentences that I know didn’t know

and still don’t know enough about her
to say what her rage, all these years later, might mean.
What do the children know about how hard

it is to play without a net? Do they even notice
how the harder the rackets hit, the higher and more gracefully
the birdie floats until it soars above the net

that isn’t there and, up among the trees, gets lost in falling leaves?

2

When she calls me today, only minutes ago,
to tell me the unalloyed stuff
of her dream, she’s riding on what she calls

“that hot-bottomed bus, when we were
all coming home, and there were chickens
flying around the bus, and a little pig

in a wooden cage in the aisle,
and when we stopped I said to a man,
Where are we? and he said in perfect English,

In Mexico, and there were a lot of tourist shops,” she said,
“and so I got off the bus to look, and there was a balloon man
selling helium balloons,” and she said, “Oh Tom,

the balloons were all so colorful,
and there was one of a cow, a bright yellow cow,
and I wanted that one so badly, such a beautiful cow,

and when I looked around, the bus was gone
and I was left alone but there were
hundreds of yellow cows all floating above the street.”



—Tom Sleigh



Tom Sleigh's books include Station Zed, Army Cats, and Space Walk. The recipient of many honors, including a Guggenheim, two NEA fellowships, and the Kingsley Tufts Award, he teaches at Hunter College.
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