frank o’hara: “after the first glass of vodka you can accept just about anything of life”

 

 

The Day Lady Died

 

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday

three days after Bastille day, yes

it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine

because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton

at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner

and I don’t know the people who will feed me

 

I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun

and have a hamburger and a malted and buy

an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets

in Ghana are doing these days

                              I go on to the bank

and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)

doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life

and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine

for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do

think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or

Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres

of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine

after practically going to sleep with quandariness

 

and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE

Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and

then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue

 

and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and

casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton

of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it

 

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of

leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT

while she whispered a song along the keyboard

to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing


A Raspberry Sweater

to George Montgomery

It is next to my flesh,
that’s why.   I do what I want.
And in the pale New Hampshire
twilight a black bug sits in the blue,
strumming its legs together.   Mournful
glass, and daisies closing. Hay
swells in the nostrils.   We shall go
to the motorcycle races in Laconia
and come back all calm and warm.

To John Ashbery

I can’t believe there’s not
another world where we will sit
and read new poems to each other
high on a mountain in the wind.
You can be Tu Fu, I’ll be Po Chu-i
and the Monkey Lady’ll be in the moon,
smiling at our ill-fitting heads
as we watch snow settle on a twig.
Or shall we be really gone? this
is not the grass I saw in my youth!
and if the moon, when it rises
tonight, is empty —a bad sign,
meaning ‘You go, like the blossoms.’

 

 

Ann Arbor Variations

 

1

 

Wet heat drifts through the afternoon

like a campus dog, a fraternity ghost

waiting to stay home from football games.

The arches are empty clear to the sky.

 

Except for the leaves: those lashes of our

thinking and dreaming and drinking sight.

The spherical radiance, the Old English

look, the sum of our being, "hath perced

 

to the roote" all our springs and falls

and now rolls over our limpness, a daily

dragon. We lose our health in a love

of color, drown in a fountain of myriads,

 

as simply as children. It is too hot,

our birth was given up to screaming. Our

life on these street lawns seems silent.

The leaves chatter their comparisons

 

to the wind and the sky fills up

before we are out of bed. O infinite

our siestas! adobe effigies in a land

that is sick of us and our tanned flesh.

 

The wind blows towards us particularly

the sobbing of our dear friends on both

coasts. We are sick of living and afraid

that death will not be by water, o sea.

 

2

 

Along the walks and shaded ways

pregnant women look snidely at children.

Two weeks ago they were told, in these

 

selfsame pools of trefoil, "the market

for emeralds is collapsing," "chlorophyll

shines in your eyes," "the sea’s misery

 

is progenitor of the dark moss which hides

on the north side of trees and cries."

What do they think of slim kids now?

 

and how, when the summer’s gong of day

and night slithers towards their sweat

and towards the nest of their arms

 

and thighs, do they feel about children

whose hides are pearly with days of swimming?

Do they mistake these fresh drops for tears?

 

The wind works over these women constantly!

trying, perhaps, to curdle their milk

or make their spring unseasonably fearful,

 

season they face with dread and bright eyes,

The leaves, wrinkled or shiny like apples,

wave women courage and sigh, a void temperature.

 

3

 

The alternatives of summer do not remove

us from this place. The fainting into skies

from a diving board, the express train to

Detroit‘s damp bars, the excess of affection

on the couch near an open window or a Bauhaus

fire escape, the lazy regions of stars, all

are strangers. Like Mayakovsky read on steps

of cool marble, or Yeats danced in a theatre

of polite music. The classroon day of dozing

and grammar, the partial eclipse of the head

in the row in front of the head of poplars,

sweet Syrinx! last out the summer in a stay

of iron. Workmen loiter before urinals, stare

out windows at girders tightly strapped to clouds.

And in the morning we whimper as we cook

an egg, so far from fluttering sands and azure!

 

4

 

The violent No! of the sun

burns the forehead of hills.

Sand fleas arrive from Salt Lake

and most of the theatres close.

 

The leaves roll into cigars, or

it seems our eyes stick together

in sleep. O forest, o brook of

spice, o cool gaze of strangers!

 

the city tumbles towards autumn

in a convulsion of tourists

and teachers. We dance in the dark,

forget the anger of what we blame

 

on the day. Children toss and murmur

as a rumba blankets their trees and

beckons their stars closer, older, now.

We move o’er the world, being so much here.

 

It’s as if Poseidon left off counting

his waters for a moment! In the fields

the silence is music like the moon.

The bullfrogs sleep in their hairy caves.

 

across the avenue a trefoil lamp

of the streets tosses luckily.

The leaves, finally, love us! and

moonrise! we die upon the sun.

 

A City Winter

 

1

 

I understand the boredom of the clerks

fatigue shifting like dunes within their eyes

a frightful nausea gumming up the works

that once was thought aggression in disguise.

Do you remember? then how lightly dead

seemed the moon when over factories

it languid slid like a barrage of lead

above the heart, the fierce inventories

of desire. Now women wander our dreams

carrying money and to our sleep’s shame

our hands twitch not for swift blood-sunk triremes

nor languorous white horses nor ill fame,

 but clutch the groin that clouds a pallid sky

 where tow’rs are sinking in their common eye.

 

2

 

My ship is flung upon the gutter’s wrist

and cries for help of storm to violate

that flesh your curiosity too late

has flushed. The stem your garter tongue would twist

has sunk upon the waveless bosom’s mist,

thigh of the city, apparition, hate,

and the tower whose doves have, delicate,

fled into my blood where they are not kissed.

 

You have left me to the sewer’s meanwhile,

and I have answered the sea’s open wish

to love me as a bonfire’s watchful hand

guards red the shore and guards the hairy strand,

our most elegant lascivious bile,

my ship sinking beneath the gutter’s fish.

 

3

 

How can I then, my dearest winter lay,

disgorge the tasty worm that eats me up

falling onto the stem of a highway

whose ardent rainbow is the spoon’s flat cup

and in the vilest of blue suited force

enamored of the heated needle’s arm

finds the ministrant an own tongue’s remorse

so near the blood and still so far from harm,

thus to be eaten up and gobbled down

volcanoes of speedometers, the strike

that heats the iris into flame and flow’rs

the panting chalice so a turning pike:

 you are not how the gods refused to die,

 and I am scarred forever neath the eye.

 

4

 

What are my eyes? if they must feed me, rank

with forgetting, in the jealous forest

of lustrous blows, so luminously blank

through smoke and in the light. All faint, at rest,

yet I am racing towards the fear that kills

them off, friends and lovers, hast’ning through tears

like alcohol high in the throat of hills

and hills of night, alluring! their black cheers

falling upon my ears like nails. And there

the bars grow thick with onanists and camps

and bivouacs of bears with clubs, are fair

with their blows, deal death beneath purple lamps

 and to me! I run! closer always move,

 crying my name in fields of dead I love.

 

5

 

I plunge deep within this frozen lake

whose mirrored fastnesses fill up my heart,

where tears drift from frivolity to art

all white and slobbering, and by mistake

are the sky. I’m no whale to cruise apart

in fields impassive of my stench, my sake,

my sign to crushing seas that fall like fake

pillars to crash! to sow as wake my heart

 

and don’t be niggardly. The snow drifts low

and yet neglects to cover me, and I

dance just ahead to keep my heart in sight.

How like a queen, to seek with jealous eye

the face that flees you, hidden city, white

swan. There’s no art to free me, blinded so.

 

 

As Planned

 

After the first glass of vodka

you can accept just about anything

of life even your own mysteriousness

you think it is nice that a box

of matches is purple and brown and is called

La Petite and comes from Sweden

for they are words that you know and that

is all you know words not their feelings

or what they mean and you write because

you know them not because you understand them

because you don’t you are stupid and lazy

and will never be great but you do

what you know because what else is there?

 

 

1951

 

Alone at night

in the wet city

 

the country’s wit

is not memorable.

 

The wind has blown

all the trees down

 

but these anxieties

remain erect, being

 

the heart’s deliberate

chambers of hurt

 

and fear whether

from a green apartment

 

seeming diamonds or

from an airliner

 

seeming fields. It’s

not simple or tidy

 

though in rows of

rows and numbered;

 

the literal drifts

colorfully and

 

the hair is combed

with bridges, all

 

compromises leap

to stardom and lights.

 

If alone I am

able to love it,

 

the serious voices,

the panic of jobs,

 

it is sweet to me.

Far from burgeoning

 

verdure, the hard way

in this street.

 

 

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

discourage her?)

 

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.

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