Sunday, June 14, 2015

Hunter-Gatherers: Tom Sleigh and Ellen Driscoll

Detail of "Hunter Gatherer"
Ellen Driscoll is a Professor of Sculpture at Rhode Island School of Design. Her work includes installations such as “The Loophole of Retreat” (Whitney Museum at Phillip Morris, 1991) and “Passionate Attitudes” (Thread-waxing Space, New York, 1995), and public art projects such as “As Above, So Below” for Grand Central Terminal (1999). The installation “Hunter Gatherer” is a 21-foot landscape made from plastic milk and water cartons scavenged from the streets of Brooklyn and the Town Recycling Center of Peterborough, NH. The salvaged material is reconfigured into a micro-world of satellite towers, abandoned oil rigs, highways and other structures. Says Driscoll “As an artist I am drawn to making things through bricolage, and the happy unpredictable chances that materials, sites, and social histories can suggest.” To see the installation, click here

Tom Sleigh is the author of eight volumes of award-winning poetry. Space Walk (2007), for example, won the 2008 Kingsley Tufts Award. As a dramatist, Sleigh has written several plays, a multimedia opera, and a full-length translation of Euripides’ Herakles (2001). His prose collection Interview with a Ghost (2006) includes both literary and personal essays. Sleigh currently directs the Hunter College MFA Program in Creative Writing in Manhattan.

(After the art installation “Hunter-Gatherer” by Ellen Driscoll)

Snow falling on the roof falls like it used to do

when freeze and thaw hardened to a satin sheen

and nothing moved in the offing but the lighthouse beam.

And so this morning is the morning of the heart

in which the vodka, talking shit all night,

dissolves into pure sunlight, purer thought,

and I’m not a whore and I’m not a bastard
and I wake clear-headed and see
above the clouds like a swept-bare prison yard

each cool hard instant of nothing but blank sky.

No sound of the All Clear, no need for intensity
or all the fake drama of some TV war. Just the eye

of the ocean staring through a neighbor’s window
with a sense of absolution no one younger can ever know.


Your snipers crouch on rooftops, your oil derricks
and McMansions gleam . . . You made it all from plastic,
scrounging water bottles at dawn with the other derelicts

and then cutting and gluing in the studio
your own slum of alabaster, your shining city
on the hill. Remember when I told you

in my aspiring bad boy way, how I found
in a footnote to Of Plymouth Plantation

the dissenter put to death with the cow he sodomized?

As if I’d made a dare, your eyes met mine,

then you went back to your drawing, your concentration,

now made perfect, cutting me down to size.

And the brown and blue ink flowing from your hand

mingled into lines only the ink could intend.


I want to see you put on those boots again,

those ones we bought from the Farmers’ Co-op

to tramp around mud-spattered fields.

I want to see you bend down and shove your toe

and thick sock into that green rubber sleeve

sheathing your foot and calf up to the knee

while you lean against me to steady your balance,

the two of us braced against each other

in sway and countersway, trust moving against chance

but nothing more at stake than what was always

at stake, life making its extensions,

then pulling back away—there we go across the water meadows

in slip and slop, hand in hand to see the manor house

the lord and lady pulled the roof off against the taxes.


Light plashes down on your white plastic plain—

and no one knows the end, or how this war comes out,

or who’s a casualty and who’s not.

Your snipers take aim. Rifles gleam in the spotlights.

Your shantytowns transfigure into lustrous flows

of shadow that make the enemy hard to spot:

everything is camouflaged in light,

in hard-to-see-through veils of glare and dazzle.

And then the first shot’s fired and in the split-second lull

before light explodes itself against light

and every light goes out, I see your careful silhouette,

head cocked to the side measuring the effect

of just how far is too far, how close too close

before such warring luminosities turn friend into foe.

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