Poet's Choice

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, April 1, 2007

Certain scenes keep returning in memory to represent something essential in a life, the way bits of a movie trailer represent the movie -- a scrap of dialogue, a facial expression, a landscape. Poetry, by creating such a scene in one life -- something Mother once said, for example -- can crystallize and hold up for inspection forces that govern life in general. Poetic attention gives the circumstances of a moment in one life some of the enduring qualities of myth. Here is an extraordinary poem of that kind from Tom Sleigh's new book, Space Walk:

The Hole

Out in the garden, the wind was like a dog

digging in the snow, digging with its nails

to make a bed to lie down in against the freezing air:

and in my exhaustion, my stupefied numb thought

dug and dug its way down to where I knew

you were--though how could I believe it?

Once, your irony and honesty refused

to let you say, "Oh yes, my son the genius!"

when I showed you a poem-- saying with Groucho deadpan,

as you handed me back the paper, the typed words

already a little smudged: "Hopkins is a good poet."

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