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.