Sean Thomas Dougherty

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 Reading the Masters


covered with smoke 
from playing pool 

late into the A.M, I awoke 
in my basement room

and grabbed a pile of books 
and began reading Yannis Ritsos

outloud—“to be locked up/
 in the leper house.  Dear God 

how alone they are…”
Then Lucille Clifton,

“say rather I withdrew
to seek within myself

some small assurance
that tragedy while vast

is bearable”—
even when hell is close by—

it always is—for people like us—

but with each syllable 

we refuse—

And even death has stopped 

work. Look over in the corner, 
he is sitting down to listen. 

It is he who is asking you 
to turn the  page.

Blues of the Working Poor

Sister drooping her head, 
like the suffering 
of lilacs 
They tapped you 
on the shoulder, 
to give you 
the already answers. 
I want to suggest 
an alternate route, 
but I can’t remember 
whose face to punch.  
These blues are not 
just scored 
by failure 
but the need 
to shout it wasn’t 
and sharpen 
your razor.
That shine.  
May you, my people, 
recall there is an anthem 
hidden in the quiet 
of the radiator 
when the landlord 
turns off the heat 
in winter.  
The dark rain 
don’t care.  
Your jive
I am so poor 
I can’t afford 
to sign my name 
for nothing.  
Hear my life 
spoken of only 
in the third person 
as if I am incapable 
of a conscious decision.   
The endless chromatics 
of bitter?  
Talk all you want. 
What is freedom 
of speech 
but the burden 
of one’s lungs
letting out air.
Sean Thomas Dougherty is the author or editor of thirteen books including the forthcoming All I Ask for Is Longing: Poems 1994- 2014 (2014 BOA Editions) Scything Grace and Sasha Sings the Laundry on the Line (2010 BOA Editions). He tours regularly for his poems, teaches part-time when he can get it, and works at a pool hall in Erie, PA.