Ballad of Lieutenant Tom Dooley, 1955


The lieutenant, in his stripes, looked like a bellhop
at the Hotel Statler, asked the young man to kindly 

remove his shoes, his shirt, his pants. Now
stand there in the diffused gray light 

coming through the eyelets of the woven drapes, the air
kicking through a vent.

The lieutenant then removed his jacket, his ring, his chest hair
bristled like righting wheat. I heard

you play Schubert down in the lobby, said the young man
setting down his watch on the glass-top nightstand.

I can play anything. 
Anything popular?

My wife likes Cole Porter, I play that for her.
The quilt on the bed had a pattern of peach daylilies 

and birds of paradise under a halo of black bees. Outside the horns
bleated along Eighth Avenue. The lieutenant kept his shoes on 

and stood at ease.
She also likes to blow me every night.

The young man knelt down and leaned forward  
pulling the naval officer in, looked down

at his own face reflecting up and running over
the glossy black pools of the two black shoes. He pressed his mouth 

to skin, the lieutenant whimpered, then sucked down air, grabbed
the young man’s buzzed nape and released quickly. 

He pulled up his pants, put on
his jacket, his class ring etched with Latin.

Do you live in the city? The young man asked.

That so?
But I’m between places.

Where you off to now? 
The jungle. 

The lieutenant retied his shoes, spit on the toes and rubbed
his cuff back and forth until twin fisheyes of the room

came through. He flicked on the light
to check his hair in the mirror above the sink. He combed his part

until a thin line of pale scalp split one side
from the other.


Ballad, 1960


He can be the wife
He can sweep
tears in quiet
He can polish
down Tom’s jags He can conceal
a pimple They know at the flower shop
skip the lilies the mister sneezes
He can dress a wild turkey
with rocks and lemon twist The apron wraps
around twice and ties at the
quivering gut He’s seen
his mother do it
a thousand times He watched her
get fat as a house
and forget herself


Thomas Dooley's first collection of poetry, Trespass, was selected by poet and novelist Charlie Smith for the National Poetry Series and is published by HarperCollins Publishers. He is Founding Artistic Director of Emotive Fruition, a poet-actor collective that strives to change the way audiences experience live page poetry. A member of the creative writing faculty at New York University, Thomas lives and writes in Brooklyn.