Tom Sleigh

Seventh Circle
January 10, 2013 Sleigh Tom

Seventh Circle

Inferno, Canto XII, 37-45



And after the fight the moment of awakening

to treelight filtering down, leaves jittery,

mountains saying nothing, parental hovering


somewhere in the wings. And lying there

the boy who’d lost just breathed. The tough kids

we all hated and admired mirrored


in our shouts, inner shakings, terrified rants

gonna kill you asshole shitbrain shithead.

And what was going on between the fighting giants


was a force inside us that watching them subdued—

movies of the sons of Hercules killing lions

versus hot stickiness of real blood.


Another day of life when you theorized

that the current of the blood-boiling river

could make you the terror. Or the terrorized.



Before the rockface shuddered into itself,

if I’ve got it right, that was just before

he plunged into this stinking, bloody gulf—


he who carried off from the circle up there

the lucky ones—while down here his power

made the earth shake so badly that I wondered


at how the universe felt love, water

and earth and air and fire no longer at war

and that harmony driving everything asunder… 


and when the loser got up a tremor

would pass through us as if this were

the chaos that kept everything together.



No: forget Dante’s world, the world of Samuel Doe,

unending avenues of tanks rusting into scrap—

forget the paradisal palaces and the army


of pillow bearers running out of pillows

to soften an emperor’s fall: for ones

like you there’s only the bombed causeway


over the earthquake-shattered valley

for you to cross: and when you look up

you see it’s fifty years on, that the boy


still refuses to look at you or anyone, the flow

of blood down his shirt showing up as radiance

you can’t turn away from or turn to.

Tom Sleigh is the author of eleven books of poetry including winner of the 2023 Paterson Poetry Prize The King’s Touch (Graywolf Press, 2022), House of Fact, House of Ruin (Graywolf Press, 2018), Station Zed (Graywolf Press, 2015), and Army Cats (Graywolf Press, 2011). His most recent book of essays, The Land Between Two Rivers: Writing In an Age of Refugees (Graywolf Press, 2018) recounts his time as a journalist in the Middle East and Africa. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, NEA grant recipient, and winner of numerous awards including the Kingsley Tufts Award, Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, John Updike Award and Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His poems appear in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Threepenny Review, Poetry, The Southern Review, Harvard Review, Raritan, The Common, Five Points and many other magazines. He is a Distinguished Professor in the MFA Program at Hunter College and lives in Brooklyn, NY.


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