To Float Out of the Second O of Sorrow 

Sean Thomas Dougherty


is to hold things together, to pay the bills,
that once piled high along the doorstep

when every drink was half off you know half of what
the wind erases, those notes the ruins of the city

the tenements & oil tanks, the refinery’s
plumes above the eastern pier. To think

of cutting through the alley between Second
& Parade is a sentence to conjugate

after 3 AM & her big hands
that held your shoulders like smoke.

as the mice & the snores of strangers
rumbled through the walls—

half of them related. She was a psalm
that burned out like a votive candle

till what was left was holy as the last spark
against the dark, before the wick sputtered,

this neighborhood she’s walked
I’ve seen & talked through sorrow 

& through joy, the details a kind of letter
I keep writing, &  her hands

a correspondence I can no longer claim 
except to say before the silence

there was a music, cellos too, violas,
tympanis of tongues. A chorus

we conducted. An afterlife
the old janitor never stopped sweeping

at the Polish falcons. He leaned his straw broom
against the wall, & then bent

against the dust—what more can we do?
I’ve never believed my luck was good.

But somehow I am still here, long after 
transistor radios, the eight tracks my father blared

driving from town to town across Ohio
selling things, the music where we danced

just to keep alive. I now understand I was not
supposed to leave so soon, half a century

a kind of boulder that I’ve pushed up the hill
& now for a moment, like Sisyphus

I watch it roll. 
I walk through the snow.

I breathe the dirty east side wind
pushing past the Russian church, the scent

of fish & freighters & borscht
filling the hole in my chest—how many years

have piled since I last stumbled out onto the ice 
after she left, & sat down to die.

Only to look up at the geometry 
of sky— & stood

to face whoever might need me—