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Poetry Moment: 'In the Light of One Lamp' by Sean Thomas Dougherty

Poet Sean Thomas Dougherty
John Henry Doucette
Poet Sean Thomas Dougherty

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Todd Davis is a professor of English and Environmental Studies at Penn State Altoona.

This episode’s poem is “In the Light of One Lamp” by Sean Thomas Dougherty.

Sean Thomas Dougherty can often be found writing by hand in a notebook along the shore of Lake Erie. He works as a Med Tech and caregiver for people recovering from traumatic brain injuries in Erie, Pennsylvania. The author or editor of 20 books, his awards include two Pennsylvania Council for the Arts Fellowships, the Northwest Pennsylvania Established Artist Fellowship from Erie Arts and Culture, the Paterson Poetry Prize, and a Fulbright Lectureship to the Balkans. Known for his dynamic readings, he offers insight into the lives of working-class people, making sure their plights and joys, their suffering and successes aren’t forgotten or overlooked.

We spend about a third of our lives sleeping, and many of us have elaborate rituals to help us fall asleep. Such rituals begin when we are children. If we’re fortunate to have loving parents, when we wake in the middle of the night from dreams that frighten us, we scamper to our parent’s bed to be held and comforted. Such tenderness is difficult to capture in language, as is the fact that children speak wisdom in the most magical ways. Today’s poem gives us a glimpse of one such child and how sleep can take us back into its arms.

Here's —

In the Light of One Lamp

I crawled into bed and closed my eyes and not long after heard the small hooves of the horses, the tiny ones that gallop in our dreams, or are they the dreams of our children, galloping through the black ruins. Everything we do is against the crippling light. To hear them cry at night is to know they are alive. When they are scared they come galloping down the long hall calling your name. Tonight it is our oldest daughter, the red mare with her fiery mane, she snuggles in between us and falls back to sleep in your arms, to that secret place inside her, she barely moves, crossing over the river, through a grove of alders, through the black ruins, she is the one who once whispered, the grass it knows everything.


That was “In the Light of One Lamp” by Sean Thomas Dougherty.

Hear more episodes of Poetry Moment at

Music by Eric Ian Farmer.

Todd Davis is the 2022-23 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.