Nightshift Belonging to Lorca (Sean Thomas Dougherty)

A quick Google search just informed me that the cliche, “Politics makes strange bedfellows” was inspired by a line from Shakespeare. It came to mind when I saw this title because my instinct told me that there could be very little overlap between these two great poets.

I was wrong. Very wrong.

(I could only find a used copy of this collection. Despite the promise that it was in ‘Good’ condition, it was heavily annotated. While it can be interesting to see another reader’s reactions, this reader was definitely a charter member of the hyper-annotation mode. At times, it was hard to see Dougherty’s words. I’m going to have to find a clean copy.)

It was the title poem that proved to me just how wrong I was as Dougherty pulls together his observations with “the green roar of Lorca.” I think the overlaps resides in the ‘roar.’ It’s a beautiful chorus. Or, as the previous reader noted: “I like how the last line of each poem [presumably she meant ‘stanza’] ties the poem together.” It does that and more. It binds the two poets together. It’s not the first time I’ve seen Dougherty pay homage to an ancestor. I recently read a Robert Desnos poem, and if somebody had taken Desnos’ name off it and replaced it with Dougherty’s, I wouldn’t have blinked. This is not at all to suggest that Dougherty is an imitator. He is aware that he is writing on the shoulders of giants and gives these authors their due. There is a history of poetry embedded in Dougherty’s work.

There’s also a spirituality that resonates. He knows what the word ‘awe’ really means. He knows when to get out of its way so we, too, can be a witness. In “Swoon,” with its knowing nod to Martin Espada, Dougherty writes, “Sip you soda I say to my son. He bends to touch the asphalt beneath the Way to Go parking lot. This act of touching.” This line will always be both gentle and beautiful. Given the restrictions on touching right now, I found it incredibly moving – “this act of touching.” Yes. Remember when we could do that and be unafraid?

From later in the same poem –

Summer, after mass. I was filled with the waking around my eyes: Like a layer of dust these fields discarded, or a trumpet whose bell we sleep in deaf, until one day we are all shuddering. This is how we see. This is how we are born. This is how we are blessed.

And the end, where he meets Lorca (and Espada) so exquisitely –

Do you see the numbers of the heart find love as the children run through the sprinklers, as the couple’s hands form a circle and they walk down the long straight block as the last streetlights flicker on against the darkness and the moths of summer, those unloved angels, collide and sweep and swoon.

Read “Snow.” Read “In the Gloaming.” Read “Lines.” “Oranges,” “In the Old Neighborhood It Beings in the Urgency of Whomever is Nameless It Pulls the Night Hard in the Hands,” “Snowglobe.” So many. So good. Such testimony.

(As for Lorca, I gave up on choosing individual collections and just got his complete works. I recommend you do the same.)

Charles Ellenbogen is the author of the teaching memoir, THIS ISN’T THE MOVIES: 25 YEARS IN THE CLASSROOM, and teaches high school English in Cleveland, Ohio. He lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio with Kirsten, his wife, Zoe, their daughter, Ezra, their son, Lincoln, their dog, and Chocolate Scales, their snake

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