The first thing I thought of was writing an Ode to an LOL, these little dolls that come in ovals that you open to find a different one (surprise!) that my six-year-old daughter is obsessed with and that my wife sneaks off to Walmart to find in the check-out line and bring them home and then of course the shouts of utter glee as our daughter unwraps the crinkly cellophane and opens the puzzle-like oval to reveal what is hidden, what doll with a strange name like LIL Yin B B or LIL SHIMONE QUEEN or LIL MISS JIVE this mix of Afrocentric street speak and Chinese Pop combined into a world fusion of childhood rep. What my daughter does then with this piece of plasticine is what we could only hope: she imagines, she makes them talk and dance and sing, her tiny choreography and cabaret.

And such is the music we make now in this the twenty-first century, no different than that we first made with a carved piece of wood, these endless aisles of detritus made by workers and slaves, bought for wages earned by long shifts at night, like the ones I work taking care of people whose brains have been injured and their memories need a caretaker to get them through the day, and I think

of D, who was once a foreman in a steel stop, calculating cuts on a CNC machine before an aneurism exploded and he had two strokes, and lost his job, and his woman, and his trailer down in a gully where every fall he would go and bow hunt turkey. Now he walks with a limp and one squinted eye, his left arm held up permanently curled and useless close to his chest, he slowly moves nearly hunchbacked with his cane. But D is all there, he can still do his math though his speech is stuttered and his eyes look crazed, he is still there trapped in that broken body, the one that when we go shopping causes strangers to pause and stare, with a tinge of fear, for what is different has always been the human to suspect, and then to kill, or the way strangers

stare at my autistic daughter throwing a fit in the check-out line, the looks and comments people make. This is how it begins. We other them. We say they are imperfect. We say look. The Spectacle of us: the damaged, the disabled, the different. There is always a them, amid the shining aisles of the things we worship we wander, the poor and broken, nodding at each other acknowledging defiantly there is also an us, and how could I ever forget the sight

of those two loud white women riding in their electric wheelchair carts through the Walmart aisles, mother and daughter, hopelessly obese, not caring a damn what anyone thought, the mother hooked up to oxygen, looking at sales, as her black “grandbaby” no more than four years old, in pig tails and a tie-dyed dress, came running up to them with one of those damn LOL dolls my daughter loves, and then another, and another, and the grandmother and mother saying go find them honey bear, keep em coming, find them all, filling the front of their cart with what it takes to imagine something better—not elusive or remembered, but something right here, wheeling down the aisle, this exuberant process of accumulation, this ordinary awe—

Sean Thomas Dougherty is the author or editor of 16 books including the forthcoming Alongside We Travel:  Contemporary Poets on Autism (2019 NYQ Books) and his most recent The Second O of Sorrow, published by BOA Editions.

Artwork by Dev Murphy