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

From Lunch Poems by Frank O'Hara. Copyright © 1964 by Frank O'Hara. Reprinted by permission of City Lights Books. All rights reserved.

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 hides you in the bosom of another and I am 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, there, 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.

From Meditations in an Emergency by Frank O'Hara. Copyright © 1957 by Frank O'Hara. Used by permission of Grove Press. All rights reserved.

Mothers of America
                               let your kids go to the movies!
get them out of the house so they won't know what you're up to
it's true that fresh air is good for the body
                                                              but what about the soul
that grows in darkness, embossed by silvery images 
and when you grow old as grow old you must
                                                                  they won't hate you
they won't criticize you they won't know
                                                           they'll be in some glamorous country
they first saw on a Saturday afternoon or playing hookey

they may even be grateful to you
                                                  for their first sexual experience
which only cost you a quarter
                                            and didn't upset the peaceful home
they will know where candy bars come from
                                                               and gratuitous bags of popcorn
as gratuitous as leaving the movie before it's over
with a pleasant stranger whose apartment is in the Heaven on Earth Bldg
near the Williamsburg Bridge
                                                oh mothers you will have made the little tykes
so happy because if nobody does pick them up in the movies
they won't know the difference
                                             and if somebody does it'll be sheer gravy
and they'll have been truly entertained either way
instead of hanging around the yard
                                                     or up in their room
                                                                                   hating you
prematurely since you won't have done anything horribly mean yet
except keeping them from the darker joys
                                                               it's unforgivable the latter
so don't blame me if you won't take this advice
                                                                      and the family breaks up
and your children grow old and blind in front of a TV set
                                                                                  seeing
movies you wouldn't let them see when they were young

From Lunch Poems by Frank O'Hara. Copyright © 1964 by Frank O'Hara. Reprinted by permission of City Lights Books. All rights reserved.

How to say milk?  How to say sand, snow, sow,

linen, cloud, cocoon, or albino?
How to say page or canvas or rice balls?

Trying to recall Japanese, I blank out:

it’s clear I know forgetting.  Mother, tell me
what to call that paper screen that slides the interior in?

From Brain Fever (W. W. Norton, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Kimiko Hahn. Used with permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

After skimming the Sunday Times, Dad turned to the back of the magazine
and tore out the crossword puzzle for his mother in Wisconsin—

as routine as my calligraphy class on Saturdays, flute practice
exactly twenty minutes on school nights

and astringent twice daily. I loved the idea of puzzles
but never tried my hand as problem-solving rubbed up against rivalry—

red velvet cake, red velvet dress, trilling—

because nothing was never enough and yet
more than a small rectangular lawn and the pulsing marsh beyond.

A puzzle might've been escape enough. A maze—instead of crossword?

No, cross words were our puzzles, after all. Although my sister and I adored
jigsaw pieces. Five-hundred. A zoo, I think. Giraffes, absolutely.

Copyright © 2013 by Kimiko Hahn. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on July 25, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

I can’t recall where to set the knife and spoon.
I can’t recall which side to place the napkin

or which bread plate belongs to me.  Or
how to engage in benign chatter.

I can’t recall when more than one fork—
which to use first.  Or what to make of this bowl of water.

I can’t see the place cards or recall any names.
The humiliation is impressive. The scorn.

No matter how much my brain “revises” the dinner

to see if the host was a family member—
I can’t recall which dish ran away with which spoon.    

 

 

From Brain Fever (W. W. Norton, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Kimiko Hahn. Used with permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Curious to see caverns,
we detoured in Tennessee
to ramble through Fat Man's Misery,
past a ballroom and gun powder machine
till we reached The World's Second Largest Underground Lake—
on which my husband had promised a ride
in a glass-bottom boat.

There, a kid hunched over a hot-rod magazine.
Dan, I think his name was,
radiant, in clammy, artificial light.

I asked Dan, college-break?
He nodded inside his hoodie
then helped me into the glass-bottom hold.
I peered into the milky water
and watched the seeded trout swim up for the chum
he dumped overboard on our account.

He was milky white, himself,
from months of cave sitting.

I wondered if he'd write a poem
on a summer spent underground.
Thought to suggest it—how foolish—
then wondered if what I really wanted was Dan,

as I stepped into his boat, to take my arm and ask me something—

at this middle age, probably for a couple coins
then give a promise of safe passage
as he ferried me to the realm of the dead

that I've been thinking about for several years
not because of a girlfriend's cancer
but because my body is no longer young.
I mean, lovely—
and that there's no turning back to that water's edge.
There's only the couch
every afternoon at four o'clock
and not wanting to ever move. Not wishing to die exactly—
just not wanting to rise
because the light feels so pressured. And I can't have 
that ardent glow reflected back while brushing teeth
or fastening a necklace. Now there's this

casting around for other stuff—
the daughters' secrets—the pathetic urge to write about their secrets—

or a crush on Charon. Not an old man as it turns out
but a youth, colorless and tired of his i-Pod.

No, he's not really of interest to me.
And this is my secret: that I wish he were—
as with those arms
reaching through clouds of cigarette smoke
to lead me into reeking dives.

I'm past that. And he, Dan,
not the poetic Charon—
will probably climb out of the caverns
into the six o'clock evening sun. Stretch. Change his shirt,
eat his mother's meatloaf and head off in a rusted Honda
for the Piggly-Wiggly parking lot
with a six-pack and a girl,

those hand-sized moths flitting in the light
as the sheriff chases the kids to another dead end spot—

those enormous dusty moths my husband caught
for me to hold in my hand
because he knows, in the afternoon light after the dank caverns,
how fluttery the furry wings will feel.
Which is more than melodrama can bear.

To have wished for Dan to ask me something?
I know the passage is not what you wanted to hear.

From Toxic Flora by Kimiko Hahn. Copyright © 2010 by Kimiko Hahn. Used by permission of W.W. Norton.