Graywolf Press, $15.00, 96 pages
If poetry mirrors the human condition, Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award winner Tom Sleigh shows the vast differences that make us who we are. The grouping of selections in Army Cats proves that poetry is anything but ordinary. Sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, yet an always honest look at the wild and natural ramifications of war and life after.
Sleigh spent several years traveling the Middle East as a journalist. The first set of poems follows his time in the 2006 Israeli-Lebanese War and continues through bits and pieces of the Iraqi conflict. The final two groups of verse talk about the aftermath there and at home in America.
Two poems stand out as masterpieces, supplying visual feasts that may scar your memory. In “A Wedding at Cana, Lebanon, 2007”, the narrator relates details of a wedding, only to have us discover that this party won’t end happily ever after. And the narrative “This Thing of Darkness” tells the story of Saddam Hussein’s execution, told like a Shakespearean stage play, complete with directions and asides.
It’s a chilling collection, although I prefer the first set to those in the remainder of the book. Sleigh pulls no punches, yet there’s a lyric, almost mystical, underlying tone that tugs at you.