Drinking Irish Whiskey on the Red Line or the Missing Puzzle of Shane MacGowan’s Teeth · Sean Thomas Dougherty

I see this commercial
  with MMA icon Conor McGregor
for this new whiskey
  that my friend tells me is a “mild
disappointment for the tongue”
  but then asks if I’d tried the whiskey
distilled with the help of Shane MacGowan
  legendary ex-lead singer
for the Irish punk band, the Pogues,
  I saw play at the Orpheum
in Boston when I was young
  & Shane was so drunk he forgot
the words in mid song singing Dirty Old Town
  & lit a cigarette
& when he opened his mouth again out came
  I can’t get no/ Satisfactionnnnnnnn
by the Rolling Stones,
  & he was one of my heroes,
I learned as much about poetry
  from his lyrics “I saw my love
at the factory wall”
  & the red brick mills
gone silent in Lawrence and Lowell
  playing hoops till dark with Greek & Khmer
& Puerto Rican boys,
  & there was something in the air
with the Cubans fighting in Angola
  & Mandala speaking from a prison cell,
& the shady boys from Southie we drank with
  who we knew ran guns to boats –cargo holds
of contraband headed to Northern Ireland—
  it was all part of a great struggle
not completely apart from—
  all those rough boys missing teeth,
like our Irish hero Shane MacGowan,
  those gone two front teeth we knew
were somewhere on some bar room floor
  in Tipperary, kicked out the front door
& how they turned into the opposite
  of empty bullet casings on a Belfast street
or blooms into white peonies
  that ran along the dirty river
in a dirty town along a factory wall,
  turned into posters and pamphlets
& LPs and broken guitar strings,
  the two front teeth of Shane MacGowan
became accordion keys
  that played a punk riff
in some dive club
  where the boys & girls clashed
into each other’s bodies
  & lifted their pints
& knew the lyrics to every song
  as if they were singing out a new anthem
to a new revolution & thousands were sailing
  back then, coming over from Dublin & Derry
to work as waiters and waitresses
  & bar backs & loading trucks
& in the last shoe factories
  without green cards
& only a phone number
  of someone’s cousin who lived on the third floor
of some walk up tenement in Revere.
  We were hopped subway turnstiles.
We were the records and the late rent.
  Our rented lives
we could witness something small
  & beautiful in the distance
leaving us,
  like two sparrows
flying over TV antennae’d roofs,
  Or the two sorrows
we carried in our chests
  empty as the bullet holes
we fingered
  in the bathroom door
of every dive.
  What righted wrongs.
What uncollected debts.
  Beyond something that could be ruined,
there was a useless kind of love we claimed.
  We were the space between things
we ran up the long stairways
  of walk up flats,
the dark tunnels between trains,
  back alleys & empty lots, corner stools
in corner bars, the white space
  between words on a page.
The silences we turned into songs.
  Like Shane MacGowan’s missing teeth,
what absences we named.

Sean Thomas Dougherty is the author or editor of 17 books including The Second O of Sorrow (BOA Editions 2018), cowinner of the Paterson Poetry Prize, and Alongside We Travel: Contemporary Poets on Autism (NYQ Books 2019). He works as a Med Tech in Erie, PA. His website is seanthomasdoughertypoet.com.