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Sean Thomas Dougherty

As if Translated from the Serbo-Croation

what kind of paper should you never write on
is a riddle you once asked me
can we speak of bodies together as if hinged
where whole cities change their names
where whole nations fall apart and then
there are no slavias, no Leningrads,
where in one life borders shift then shift again
in a world where statues are torn down and what
you were told was true is lies or what you are told
is lies in a city where nations are cleaved where people
who speak like you are named traitor where borders are
erased where borders are barb wired against
children torn from mothers torn
from fathers fathers found in ditches
in this world where once and you could drive
the length of the Adriatic without showing your
passport on a planet where one needs
a passport why did you believe we
would last that we too would not be pulled
from one another by no army no by something
as simple as Vodka or not calling on a Saturday
or a lament we heard from our chests
if not us if we could not cling to each other
despite all the small griefs and protests
nothing grand no broken treaties
no armies at our flanks just the borders
of our bodies unseparable
as if wrapped in barbed wire
we tear from each other
we burn our separate flags
and in this there is hope
for anyone named other
we are all others
finding one another
the bodies we become
in breath the bodies
we resist and shift
we too transform
and then I know that to live 

is to travel the distance 

between us and read the ancient
ruins and runes
our fingers spell
the word arrival
or departure
means windchimes
means winter means
marrow means money
or is it mountain
or everything that becomes
plural when one
becomes one
becomes one
you reach into my chest
to light in those rooms
we paid for with paper money
were we not a kind of want
which is to say water or wheat
which is to say a far off silo
which is to say the head scarfed
women threshing by hand
or gathering bruised apples
by the side of the road
or the men dragging in their nets
at night or the workers
with their blue uniforms and lunch pails
walking through the narrow streets
for the night shift
and the coal smoke from the refineries
or the long rows of trains
covered with refugees
is the answer to the riddle
what kind of paper
should you never write on
is a thousand dinar
that boy with the eyes
like the black Madonna
could take it and spend it
without epistles or elegies
we witnessed saw his mother
tustle his hair his tough mother
with eyes like the black Madonna
who sold plastic rosaries
along the river took his hand
as they walked out of our lives
which is to say we were little more
than a mention in the small time
between wars and we were only two
strangers among strangers
traveling across new borders
in a country that was named
something else when I was young
and the grey doves
rose to the ceiling
of the Orthodox cathedral
on the day we walked in
to escape the sudden storm
and outside the rain
swept across that country
with its new name
that meant both dread, and joy.

2021 Author Photo Sean Thomas Dougherty, photo by Melanie Rae B - Sean Thomas

Sean Thomas Dougherty is the author or editor of twenty books including the forthcoming Death Prefers the Minor Keys from BOA editions, and The Dead are Everywhere Telling Us Things, winner of the 2021 Jacar Press Full Length Poetry Prize, selected by Jessica Jacobs and Nickole Brown. His book The Second O of Sorrow (BOA Editions 2018) received both the Paterson Poetry Prize, and the Housatonic Book Award. Recent awards include the James Hearst Poetry Prize from North American Review. He works as a Med Tech and caregiver and teaches part-time for the MFA Program at Western Connecticut State University. More info on Sean can be found at

Bear Review


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