Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The heart's deliberate chambers of hurt

It is Frank O'Hara's birthday today according to The Writer's Almanac, but a little research uncovers a different reality: O'HARA, Frank (27 Mar. 1926-25 July 1966), poet, was born Francis Russell O'Hara in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Russell Joseph O'Hara and Katherine Broderick, who both came from strict Irish-Catholic families. O'Hara always believed he was born 27 June 1926, but his parents apparently lied about his birthdate to hide the fact that he was conceived before their marriage. Well, birthday or not, I still wanted to pay tribute to this "urbane, ironic, sometimes genuinely celebratory and often wildly funny" poet with one of his poems that is particularly close to my heart. O'Hara felt that poetry should be "between two persons instead of two pages" and sought to capture the immediacy of life, describing his work as "I do this I do that" poetry because his poems often read like entries in a diary. And yet, as Kenneth Rexroth noted, O'Hara's speech often manages to rise above its own colloquialism and is "moving in the way that only simple communication can be moving." This poem is from his collection Meditations in an Emergency published in 1957 and I can still recall the effect it had on me when I first read it in my freshman year of college; here was a voice that was at once urgent and wistful and I felt an immediate connection.


The eager note on my door said "Call me,
call when you get in!" so I quickly threw
a few tangerines into my overnight bag,
straightened my eyelids and shoulders, and

headed straight for the door. It was autumn
by the time I got around the corner, oh all
unwilling to be either pertinent or bemused, but
the leaves were brighter than grass on the sidewalk!

Funny, I thought, that the lights are on this late
and the hall door open; still up at this hour, a
champion jai-alai player like himself? Oh fie!
for shame! What a host, so zealous! And he was

there in the hall, flat on a sheet of blood that
ran down the stairs. I did appreciate it. There are few
hosts who so thoroughly prepare to greet a guest
only casually invited, and that several months ago.

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