Thursday, October 27, 2005

Tom Sleigh's "The Door"

Back in July I posted a beautiful poem called "The Hammock" by Tom Sleigh. Here is another one from the same book--The Dreamhouse--on pp 69-70. Garnet posted a photograph and a short poem which questions the function of perception, and I think this poem speaks to that idea.


The Door

Fifteen years in each other's heat
And you still picture me the single man
Living hand-to-mouth on my own heart...


And you, how do I see you? The question
Stinging, my eyes slide off yours.
Your poker-faced stare become another barrier--

It's as if who we thought we'd be to one another
Waits outside knocking on the door,
At first composed, then pounding so hard

The door no longer is an entrance in
But the one thing we must always keep closed.
And so we wonder what the face

Beyond the door looks like until it rears
Like mist in the steaming sun, that stranger's
Always shifting, spotlit glance egging us onward

To the verge of space where we sense love
As we've never known unstoppably expanding,
Billowing and towering through the clear deep noon...

--And yet those features burn off
In the heat and leave us still facing
The warped-shut door and what we know is true:

The sun shining impartially back in our eyes
With a light that we both love and half-despise;
Your face as it appears to me; mine as it seems to you.

Tom Sleigh

This poem reminds me of the sensibility in "The Hammock" in that it alludes to a moment of clear, expanded awareness. In "The Hammock," the awareness is a more universal feeling of awe and belonging and peace; in this poem, the awareness occurs between two people who long to see the reality of the other. The "door" of perception makes this nearly impossible--much of the human exprience is about recognizing and dealing with perception--but at times the face of the other "rears / Like a mist in the steaming sun." A sun-drenched mist is, however, bound to dissipate, just as the "features" of the other will "burn off / In the heat," abandoning the speaker to stare once again at the door.

9 comments:

T L Reynolds said...

Tom Sleigh's poem is quite beautiful and it reminds me of Tess Galligher's although it is very different...I guess I mean the feel of the piece, if that makes sense.

Diane Goodman's poetry is very concise and eminates a lonely confidence, like "The Door".

Danny said...

The "door" is a powerful imagery of arrival and departure, of reconciliation and separation, of birth and death... It is also a powerful imagery of estrangement in a relationship

"Fifteen years in each other's heat/ And you still picture me the single man...", it is as though the poet felt "estranged" from the presence of his other half despite the human heat and love that they shared together.

MB said...

Both of these poems are extraordinary descriptions of the push-pullness of relationships, the two sides of a doorway, the swing to-and-from, etc. This one seems darker and bleaker to me than "The Hammock."

(*I think.* "The Hammock" has its own hint of darkness I haven't quite figured out: The pines like judges stare down at us:/ What should we recant, here,/ tonight, as if we'd only just begun:/Off-center already, losing/ equilibrium? Is that ambivalence in the heart of what otherwise seems a lovesong? A "let's go back to the beginning because we're off track"?)

"The Door" strikes me as a very sad poem, brutally honest and (at least in that moment) lacking a kind of compassion I would expect in a (healthy) 15-year-old relationship. But then that's exactly what he's talking about, isn't it? There's a divide, a doorsill, the I and the you are teetering on. The door is entrance, departure, obscuring, opening, point of balance, point of imbalance. It's a very lonely poem.

Maintaining a relationship is, after all, not unlike learning to ride a bike. There are many balances to learn to strike.

This is powerful writing and for all the bleakness I'm glad to be introduced to this poet.

Danny said...

Amy I cannot help but come back to thank you for posting this poem. I am embarassed to admit that I could relate well in this poem "The Door" and Moose articulated it well on his comment. As artist and fledgeling writer, there are things that I cannot articulte or express in words or in visual form but others did like this poem by Tom Sleigh.

Amy said...

Hi everybody,

The very insightful comments posted here about Tom's poem are a pleasure to read. Some thoughts echo my own ideas about Tom's work--he is a master of weaving together darkness and beauty, pain and ecstasy, without ever sounding trite. His work is complex and fresh.

I am glad people find his work as affecting as I do. The most important thing about reading poetry, to me, is to get "the feel of the piece," as TL says.

Danny, you need not be embarassed. I feel the same familiarity with the subject of this poem. I think it is a universal experience.

garnet david said...

Amy- thanks for the reference.

This poem is exquisite, so full of subtle emotions and images. Though there's optimism, it's ultimately sad, especially the line
"The door no longer is an entrance in
But the one thing we must always keep closed." The possibility for expansive love is gone. It only crops up uninvite, and almost feared.

This is so universal. I think most couples feel haunted by the weight of their limited relationships.

This is about real versus ideal, possibility versus reality.

Amy said...

Hi Garnet, and everybody:

I agree the poem has a sad quality. Too me, though, it is ultimately hopeful. To have had a close relationship with someone for fifteen years and to have glimpses of perfection is to have a lot. The door between each of us is difficult, but an essential part of being human. If we can accept both the reality and unreality of the door, we can stop striving for perfection and accept the beauty of imperfection.

I suppose I just revealed my postmodernist leanings. :-) That is part of the door of my own perception.

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