Ask the Evening Light Its Shape

January 17, 2019
A child's hand pressed up against glass with a moth perched on the other side
Greg Jordan, “Moth, Glass, Hand,” Sept. 2009 / Flickr

Before there is sausage and bread
And blood-red wine
Like the light
Over the great lake
Are you a ship
Or a sequin
Something so tiny
It could be glued
To a fingertip
At the nail shop
Where the Vietnamese girls
Tie strings in their hair
And gossip
About the cute black boys
Tossing a frisbee
At the high school track
Across the avenue
This evening
The light passes
Like a prayer
Like through stained glass
Or like birds
Heading toward the darkening trees
The shape of sleep
The shape of that last dinner
And your leg brace
After the accident
And your cousin’s wheelchair
And your grandfather’s death
There is nothing near happiness
That summer night
We speak, after the light
Through us
What shape remains
In the darkened grass
We lay
You put out your cigarette
The fireflies rise
And all I can see
Is your jawbone
The line of your throat
How many friends
Are dead
Or in prison
Which is really
What I meant to ask
Of the light
Where they have gone
So easily
As one day passes
Into dark
There are the shapes
Of those we loved
And those to come
Fluttering toward
What it is
Is what shapes us
Is not the light
It is the absence
Cupped in our hands
Like a moth
Too soft to be heard

Photo by John Henry Doucette

Sean Thomas Dougherty is the author or editor of fifteen books including The Second O of Sorrow and All You Ask for Is Longing: Poems 1994–2014, both published by BOA Editions. His awards include a Fulbright lectureship to the Balkans and two Pennsylvania Council for the Arts Fellowships. His work has appeared in Best American Poetry, North American Review, and the New York Times. He lives in Erie, Pennsylvania, with the poet Lisa M. Dougherty and their two daughters, where he works for the Barber National Institute on Autism.