In the Voice of a Minor Saint

  • Carolyn Harris Zukowski
    • Book Reviews
    • Sarah J. Sloat
    • Tilt Press, 2009

Oh Lord, to be the patroness of bees, wine glasses, cigarettes, and straight talk, or, as in the in the title poem, a saint whose …”heart is small, like a love/ of buttons or black pepper.” Her titles usher us to the front pew of human frailties. In “Folk Art,” we experience a landscape of limitations, where a two-dimensional female laments, …”Mine was a small world, small/and flawed. I could never hold you/ with such short arms.” In “Shady,” a desperate woman with a broken sandal loses her credibility amongst the well-heeled: …”I must enter/ the sandwich shop shoeless, sandals/ in hand, like Jesus, whose story/ is so hard to believe.”

The problem with saints is that they’re unforgiving, and perhaps, a bit damning. They make us want to give up something, or at least, try harder. “Infirmary,” is an exercise of hermetic perfection – “Stranger, once/ I gave up all my earthly goods/ so my blood could go travelling.” Or, in “God Have Pity on the Smell of Gasoline,” the narrator implores God to have …”pity on the whole machine/gas has to carry: lead, flesh and metals/ that do not travel light.” Sarah J. Sloat’s poems draw an unwavering line from the religious to the secular; we see the devil in the details.

Downtown there’s a man who will write
my name on a grain of rice for 5 euros.
I’m sure he’s a decent man who could use
5 euros, but what would I want with that?
Please remove my name from all grains of rice.
I write my name on the dirt in the eaves.

—“Please Remove My Name”