THE SECOND O OF SORROW, BY SEAN THOMAS DOUGHERTY
Sean Thomas Dougherty begins his fourteenth book, The Second O of Sorrow (BOA Editions), asking the question that has loomed large over writers these past few years: “Why Bother?” Why bother writing poetry when a disgruntled white boy can kill seventeen of his classmates? Why bother when black bodies are erased by officers in the courts and the streets? When our President is signing hate into law? Grief haunts his collection that refuses to turn away from “the quiet click of [Death’s] bony fingers.” When the speaker’s daughter asks why police killed Tamir Rice, the speaker zeroes in on the details of her body. She sits in his lap. Chewed bits of a flower’s petals dot her lips. Behind her, the swing “hangs itself slowly in the dark.” Bodies are fragile, too ready to be taken away in this world where “every time we kiss we are saying goodbye.”
Dougherty resists the urge to provide easy answers. Despite the declining health of the speaker’s partner, he doesn’t turn toward religion. He imagines himself carrying a machete “To cut off the wings of the angel.” There’s a keen distrust for the academic institution: “The poem is the first breath and the last death. It is as hard it is said for a Professor to enter the Kingdom of Poetry as it is for a camel to fit through the ‘e’ of Helvetica. A Poem is not an Academy of Poets. There is no Academy of Poets.” So where does one turn? As Dougherty asks in that first poem, “Why Bother?,” he provides a bold answer. “Because right now, there is someone / out there with / a wound in the exact shape / of your words.” Words may not change the living conditions of our violent country—they certainly cannot change our mortality, the loss that comes heavy with the death of a loved one—but they can be held up to the wound, measured against it, and provide one with a sense of togetherness. Others have wounds of the same shape who have survived to weave words that gleam. With The Second O of Sorrow, Dougherty has made something beautiful for us that does not erase the pain, but shares it with us, lets us know we do not hurt alone.