48 years ago this past week my favorite poet passed away as a result of a freak buggy accident on Fire Island. I’ve been trying to write a poem a day lately – though not always with success – which is why I’ve been including the slightly less embarrassing ones in my letters lately. Here is prose poem I wrote this weekend, in honor of Mr. O’Hara.
A True Account of Meeting Frank O’Hara in Washington Square Park
I sat down on a bench to eat my cheeseburger when who should be sitting next to me but Frank saying, “So you think you’ve figured it out, do you? You’re pretty clever, Mr. Sunday. Indeed I wrote all those poems to help me remember and you’ve been writing them too, I see. Isn’t it just marvelous how much you can leave out and still get the feeling? You can say a single word, ‘swimming’ and it’ll remind you of long emails and ripe tomatoes, but not oranges, that’s my word, as much as one can own a word. Which reminds me: I’m beginning to worry that you’re trying too hard to write like me.”
“You’re not as tall as I’d expected,” I said.
“No one is,” he said and took a cigarette out of his shirt pocket. “You’re not supposed to do that anymore,” I said. “You’re not supposed to do everything anymore,” he waved his hand in the air. I knew there were things I wanted to ask him but I couldn’t remember any of them, I had only planned on eating lunch. So I said “There’s so much to read.”
“There always is. But you don’t have to read any of it, you know. You don’t have to read Mayakovsky or Carlos Williams or late Auden as if you’re trying to understand me. You don’t have to care about Wordsworth or Yeats, you can enjoy a thing for what it is without knowing where it comes from.”
“Thanks for giving me permission!” “And don’t be in such a hurry. I know I was but let me tell you, it wasn’t worth all the fuss. The days, even the long ones, are over before you know it. Go on your walks but don’t expect anything either, sometimes trees will just be trees. And look here: Mother Pigeon came at 5 am to set up her birds and the rhythm man, I told him to buy that pan in Bali two years ago and start playing music when he was three. I gave every Italian woman the sense to blow a perfect kiss, and they’ve been saying the cupcake fad is over for years, believe me. But cupcakes will still be around everywhere like the kids that sold you the lemonade they squeezed this morning. They’ve all been waiting for you, don’t you see? Even the sun is here to pay you a visit. It can’t stay for long though, we’re driving up to Montreal.”
When I looked again he was no longer there. I thought he’d left, but I heard the sound of a typewriter and soon he came back with a poem for me. “Can I show it to my friends?” “No, because I wrote it for you,” he said. “If I’d written it for them I would’ve given it to them, and if I didn’t know who they were I wouldn’t write poems at all.”
I thanked him profusely and he left for good, leaving me to finish my cheeseburger.