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by Bridget Moloney
I first read Frank O’Hara on Christmas Day, 1999. My sister gave me a copy of The Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara edited by Donald Allen. It has a line drawing of a nude man, wearing what I always took to be socks but have recently considered boots, on the cover. And it changed my life. Or at least contributed largely to my pursuit of writing and eventual move to New York.
Frank, as I like to think of him, was part of the New York School of poets. And a genius. It is only through a tremendous amount of self restraint I have not tattooed the entirety of one of the Lunch Poems or My Heart on myself. Restraint and insufficient space on my shoulder blades.
I’m not going to cry all the time
nor shall I laugh all the time,
I don’t prefer one “strain” to another.
I’d have the immediacy of a bad movie,
not just a sleeper, but also the big,
overproduced first-run kind. I want to be
at least as alive as the vulgar. And if
some aficionado of my mess says “That’s
not like Frank!”, all to the good! I
don’t wear brown and grey suits all the time,
do I? No. I wear workshirts to the opera,
often. I want my feet to be bare,
I want my face to be shaven, and my heart–
you can’t plan on the heart, but
the better part of it, my poetry, is open.
In the mid-1950s Frank worked at the front desk of the Museum of Modern Art and on his lunch breaks he’d walk to the Olivetti Typewriter show room where out on the sidewalk they had a typewriter and reams of paper anyone could use. Some people get a sandwich, O’Hara wrote some of the most gorgeously glib and poignant poems ever written (seriously). Some favorites:
City Lights Books published them in 1964. Earlier this year the Museum of the City of New York had an incredible show called Manhattan Noon. It was photographs by Gus Powell that’d he taken on his own lunch break paired with O’Hara’s Lunch Poems. They served only Manhattans at the opening.
Lana Turner has collapsed!
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing
and raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the traffic
was acting exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline
LANA TURNER HAS COLLAPSED!
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up
My heart’s aflutter!
I am standing in the bath tub
crying. Mother, mother
who am I? If he
will just come back once
and kiss me on the face
his coarse hair brush
my temple, it’s throbbing!
then I can put on my lcothes
I guess, and walk the streets.
I love you. I love you,
but I’m turning to my verses
and my heart is closing
like a fist.
sick as I am sick, swoon,
roll back your eyes, a pool,
and I’ll stare down
at my wounded beauty
which is at best only a talent
Cannot please, cannot charm or win
what a poet!
And the clear water is thick
With bloody blows on its head.
I embraced a cloud,
but when I soared
That’s funny! there’s blood on my chest
oh yes, I’ve been carrying bricks
what a funny place to rupture!
and now it is raining on the ailanthus
as I step out onto the window ledge
the tracks below me are smoky and
glistening with a passion for running
I leap into the leaves, green like the sea
Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.
The country is grey and
brown and white in trees,
snows and skies of laughter
always diminishing, less funny
not just darker, not just grey.
It may be the coldest day of
the year, what does he think of
that? I mean, what do I? And if I do,
perhaps I am myself again.
Frank was a gay man and if I was in analysis and not writing this (that is to say I am in analysis just not literally right this second) I could go on about his sentiments resonating with me, a young woman and la dee dah, but I’ll spare all of us. Fire Island played a part in FOH’s life—as it still does for many East coast gay men, talented poets or not. It’s also where he was fatally struck by a dune buggy in 1966. Can you believe it?! A dune buggy!
My friends and I had a summer share on Fire Island last year. I was finally told to stop talking about Frank O’Hara’s tragic accidental death every time we walked down to the beach. I did not see a single dune buggy, for the record. After having read Frank O’Hara it is impossible, in my estimation, to not want to live in New York just a little bit. Way more than Woody Allen.
Meditations in an Emergency
Am I to become profligate as if I were a blonde? Or religious
as if I were French?
Each time my heart is broken it makes me feel more adventurous
(and how the same names keep recurring on that interminable
list!), but one of these days there’ll be nothing left with
which to venture forth.
Why should I share you? Why don’t you get rid of someone else
for a change?
I am the least difficult of men. All I want is boundless love.
Even trees understand me! Good heavens, I lie under them, too,
don’t I? I’m just like a pile of leaves.
However, I have never clogged myself with the praises of
pastoral life, nor with nostalgia for an innocent past of
perverted acts in pastures. No. One need never leave the
confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes–I can’t
even enjoy a blade of grass unless i know there’s a subway
handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not
totally regret life. It is more important to affirm the
least sincere; the clouds get enough attention as it is and
even they continue to pass. Do they know what they’re missing? Uh huh.
My eyes are vague blue, like the sky, and change all the time;
they are indiscriminate but fleeting, entirely specific and
disloyal, so that no one trusts me. I am always looking away.
Or again at something after it has given me up. It makes me
restless and that makes me unhappy, but I cannot keep them
still. If only i had grey, green, black, brown, yellow eyes; I
would stay at home and do something. It’s not that I’m
curious. On the contrary, I am bored but it’s my duty to be
attentive, I am needed by things as the sky must be above the
earth. And lately, so great has their anxiety become, I can
spare myself little sleep.
Now there is only one man I like to kiss when he is unshaven.
Heterosexuality! you are inexorably approaching. (How best
St. Serapion, I wrap myself in the robes of your whiteness
which is like midnight in Dostoevsky. How I am to become a
legend, my dear? I’ve tried love, but that holds you in the
bosom of another and I’m always springing forth from it like
the lotus–the ecstasy of always bursting forth! (but one must
not be distracted by it!) or like a hyacinth, “to keep the
filth of life away,” yes, even in the heart, where the filth is
pumped in and slanders and pollutes and determines. I will my
will, though I may become famous for a mysterious vacancy in
that department, that greenhouse.
Destroy yourself, if you don’t know!
It is easy to be beautiful; it is difficult to appear so. I
admire you, beloved, for the trap you’ve set. It’s like a
final chapter no one reads because the plot is over.
“Fanny Brown is run away–scampered off with a Cornet of Horse;
I do love that little Minx, & hope She may be happy, tho’ She
has vexed me by this exploit a little too.–Poor silly
Cecchina! or F:B: as we used to call her.–I wish She had a
good Whipping and 10,000 pounds.”–Mrs. Thrale
I’ve got to get out of here. I choose a piece of shawl and my
dirtiest suntans. I’ll be back, I’ll re-emerge, defeated, from
the valley; you don’t want me to go where you go, so I go where
you don’t want me to. It’s only afternoon, there’s a lot
ahead. There won’t be any mail downstairs. Turning, I spit in
the lock and the knob turns.
When I was a child
I played by myself in a
corner of the schoolyard
I hated dolls and I
hated games, animals were
not friendly and birds
If anyone was looking
for me I hid behind a
tree and cried out, “I am
And here I am, the
center of all beauty!
writing these poems!
Bridget Moloney is the senior contributor to This Recording.
She writes, lives, works, and eats lunch in New York City.
LINKS TO MAKE YOU EVEN MORE LITERATE:
Short-Winded Drunk Ernest Hemingway Wrestles Wallace Beery From Beyond The Grave
Bob Dylan’s Ex-Gal Pal The Freewheelin’ Suze Rotolo Remembers A Time When Artists Could Afford To Live In Greenwich Village
Every Book In Phil Elverum’s House
SONGS TO KEEP YOU OPEN HEARTED
“Poetry Man” – Phoebe Snow
“Type Slowly (Live)” – Pavement
“The Beach” – Jonathan Richman
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