Sean Thomas Dougherty
For What We Might Be
When her grandfather closed his eyes, I could see him, she said, walking into his favorite diner on 10th street, he was ordering breakfast. She said he was quietly flirting with the waitress. Her name was Alma! Can you believe it? His last words he was flirting with some stranger, not our mother. He kept saying hon, hon. Bring me a hot pot of coffee. Then he was gone. I took a long look down the block for the bus. I imagined ordering coffee in the doorway of this life and the next. Breathing morphine. A little packet of holy sugar, or salt. Where were we? On a downtown bus stop in late summer. She didn’t light her cigarette. We stepped back in the plastic shelter. The wind was rising. What we had was a music digging in its talons. A few letters scribbled in the unmargined sky. On our backs we have feathers. We feel them when we shrug. She is telling me a story. She used to be a social worker. Then it was too much. The heart she says, feels too much. She touches her chest. The bus is overdue to arrive. Both of us off our day shift. She touches her name tag: Valerie. My black pants are creased. She is only a little bit older than I am. Both of us could have grandchildren. We work for nearly nothing. She wears a necklace, a blue Mary in a small oval over her shirt. It is getting dark. My grandfather, she says, worked his whole life at the metallurgy plant. It is so empty now, a husk of shadows along the train tracks. I can still see him there. Carrying his lunch bucket. Walking from his truck, he was always whistling some unnamed tune. She closes her eyes as if to listen. The rain touches her face. Her makeup mimics the dusk.
I went to Brucie’s house. I was sixteen. Where is your mother I asked? She is upstairs calling to my dead aunt.
We told jokes and poked each other
until we heard his mother in the attic
on one side softly talking. Then the silence, and the creaking chair from the other side
of this world.
Red Dirt women, Brucie said, can all speak to their dead.
Nothing I was told or we are told is quite the truth I say. We call our chests our chests
because we keep our hearts in there. But in our lungs such secrets. I read the secret scripts when I dream—
I can tell you the shape of the tree is a woman and the sound on the wind of her laughter is the leaves.
Punk Nursery Rhyme
I think I am done here soon. Said the lighter. To the spoon.
Where The Wolves Prowl
The green lights at dusk
& the Spanish girls jumping Double Dutch,
the insomnia clock & the stoop smoking,
my Russian neighbor on the phone speaking Cyrillic—
is it smog or haze that causes us to forget the number
of our dead? The ones we’ve carved into our skin
with a heated needle? At some point we are all meat,
waiting on a plate to be eaten by Nobody. With a face.
Or this night as Lorca writes Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep, the eclipse of our half closed lids.
At the playground swings we sway. Nobody
with money knows our names. Nobody
is awake who could alibi we lived.
What I withhold the letters of our dead
is only what I would carry to give you later
as we lay in bed we heard the rain
rushing through the eaves trough—
is a cleansing for when we wake
the streets are clean & full of truant children
spitting on the schoolyard walls
a testament of light,
the body’s blues disguised, the swarms
of dragonflies along the docks,
the great rusty freighter with its load of ore.
What is this that we’ve survived?
We were a word like shale, a walk like wolf
In the bars we razed. The bottles sweat
I lift one to my lips, sipping down the dark—
Sean Thomas Dougherty’s poetry has been read on PBS radio in Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Rochester and Cleveland. He has taught creative writing at Syracuse University, Penn State, Case Western, Cleveland State and Chatham University. He is the author or editor of thirteen books across genre that include All I Ask for Is Longing: Poems 1994- 2014 (2014 BOA Editions) Scything Grace (2013 Etruscan Press) Sasha Sings the Laundry on the Line (2010 BOA Editions), the prose-poem-novel The Blue City (2008 Marick Press/Wayne State University), and Broken Hallelujahs (2007 BOA Editions). He currently works at a pool hall and gives readings around the country.