No drip line to uncrimp, no one needing
to intubate the moon or hold the little plastic basin
to the sky’s lips. “The sun is an insult,” wrote one.
Millions on millions of stacked-up rooms
where screens become a hive mind
thinking it, seeing it, saying it over and over again.
—from “Little Testament”
Tom Sleigh’s poems are skeptical of the inevitability of our fate, but in this brilliant new collection, they are charged with a powerful sense of premonition, as if the future is unfolding before us, demanding something greater than the self. Justice is a prevailing force, even while the poems are fully cognizant of the refugee crisis, war, famine, and the brutal reality of a crowded hospital morgue.
The King’s Touch collides the world of fact and the world of mystery with a resolutely secular register. The title poem refers to the once-held belief that the king, as a divine representative, is imbued with the power of healing touch. Sleigh turns this encounter between illness and human contact toward his own chronic blood disease and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its mounting death tolls. One poem asks, “isn’t it true that no matter how long you / wear them, masks don’t grieve, only faces do?”
In this essential new work, Sleigh shows how the language of poetry itself can revive and recuperate a sense of a future under the conditions of violence, social unrest, and global anxiety about the fate of the planet.
“Sleigh’s deft hand, attention to detail, and literary experience make him an ideal interlocutor . . . In The King’s Touch, Sleigh excels at seeing and interpreting the world as it is, on its own merits.”—Kevin O’Rourke, Michigan Quarterly Review