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Tom Sleigh

Tom Sleigh

Tom Sleigh's eight books include Army Cats, winner of the John Updike Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and Space Walk, which won the $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Award. Station Zed is forthcoming from Graywolf 2015. Awards include the PSA Shelley Prize, American Academy in Berlin Prize, the Lila Wallace Fund, Guggenheim and NEA. His work appears in The New Yorker, APR, Atlantic Monthly, Poetry and elsewhere. He teaches in the M.F.A. Program at Hunter College..

Hunger


In places where I am and he isn't,
in places where he is and I'm not, if
he's survived, if his baby teeth have grown

past rudiments of mouthing, now he bites
and chews, his will driven by craving for what
might be there and might not in the food sacks

that if you put your head in them smell not
at all, as if the grain weren't real, or made
of molecules extraterrestrial, a substance

never seen on earth before, a substance
that in the huge warehouse rises in
a pyramid, grain sacks stacked into

a mock Pharaoh's tomb so if a human-headed
bird with an infant's face should fly up
in green-winged splendor sprouting from bony

shoulderblades and feathering his neck
muscles so exhausted they minutely
tremble, unable to hold his head

upright for more than a few seconds, wouldn't it
be hard, almost impossible, for his winged Ba
to dissolve into Akh where his molecules bend

into beams of light?—and so he stays in Mut,
nothing transfigured, as in this moment:
to get a better look at me, steel turtle head

in flak jacket, he cocks his head almost
like a bird's, his sidelong famine gawk,
as he lies listless in his mother's lap,

coming back into focus when the woman
from Médecins Sans Frontières gives him
Plumpy'nut that needs no water, no refrigeration,

no preparation, a food suited to eternity,
so that body, becoming Ba, may eat to enter Akh,
unless you're shut out, unless you live

forever in your death in Mut, condemned
forever to eat this peanut slurry as a biscuit
that he chews and chews...but when he's finished

he begins throwing the silver wrapper
in the air, catching it and throwing it
fluttering in the air, the silver wrapper

turning the air between him and his mother
into a medium, another otherworld
nobody but them can share just as long

as the calories, the sugars, the digestive
juices feed that silver-never-ending-
in-the-moment momentary fluttering.

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