Another Epistle to Frank O'Hara
On the Forty-Ninth Birthday of "The Day Lady Died"
It is 3:00 in the torpid New South, three days past Bastille Day & yes this is the form you fashioned, isn't it? Exact & fast & haunted as the opening chords of "Sweet Jane" (Mott the Hoople version), which pulses from the minivan as I drive from shrink to soccer camp, shirtpocket staining my new Rx with sweat, the bank thermometer flashing 103, the day's new record. We still use Fahrenheit, Frank (if I may call you Frank). I might add that we are in deep shit, icecaps turning slush, a gallon of regular more pricey than an opera ticket, not to mention a pair of wars, one of which just killed a reservist—the husband of my son's kindergarten teacher. IED, it's called: your body parts sail for blocks. How do you explain this to a six-year-old, Frank? Gauloises & Strega & your endless namechecks seem beside the point; even the willowy & ravished junkie whisper of late Lady Day cannot console. They have confiscated our cabaret licenses & men in camouflage turn men in orange jumpsuits into whimpering fetal balls. Head slap, stress position, waterboard. Explain this to a six-year-old. Today in the shrink-office Time, an obit for your long-lived buddy Robert Rauschenberg—the trick is not to impose order but to make the most of chaos. Uh huh. The Odyssey's—yes that's the name, Odyssey Espresso—unwieldy as a subway car & I'm running yellow lights to make it on time to the Y, where Jake will stand by the potted doorway marigolds, backpack, NASA baseball cap, his new black soccer cleats in hand. Then together it's hardware store & CVS: ant killer, a/c filters, orange tabs to twist the dials of serotonin, a goofy card for Noelle's fiftieth. Also her grocery list: milk, dinner, eggs, cheap pinot noir & a cheaper (please, David) chardonnay this time. My skills at self-portratiure, we can both agree, are limited. At two a.m. most nights I wake in terror. I pray to your good spirit, Frank, that I be worthy of this life, longer than yours already by a decade & a half. & I am back in a Minnesota dorm room, eighteen, snow occluding Fourth Street, colder than today by one hundred degrees, & spellbound I page your big new phonebook-sized Collected, the "suppressed" Larry Rivers cover, where naked you stand, posing Rodin-ishly. (Where is it now? Tattered & worth a dozen tanks of premium.) & it's grace to be born & to live as variously as possible. Grace o soccer cleat, Xanax, Odyssey, grace o standin-on-the-corner -suitcase-in-my-hand, o seasons, o castles, o elegant & gracious & bedazzling Noelle, who waiteth for me to uncork Rex Goliath. Grace o box set Billie Holiday: The Final Sessions, orchid ashimmer in her lacquered hair. & Congressional hearings—Rumsfeld, Addington, Yoo: let's start the war crimes tril now. Grace o milk, dinner, eggs, o Chamber of the Felines at Lascaux, o my damaged life mask of Keats on the wall, who now, poor bloke, looks trepanned. Grace o Microsoft Word (fucked up as it is), Grace o songs of Junior Parker, Robyn Hitchcock, Grant McLennan. & wise George Oppen— did you know him, Frank?—writing thusly in his Daybook: you men may wish to write poetry. At 55, my desires are more specific.
From World Tree by David Wojahn. Copyright © 2012 by David Wojahn. Published by University of Pittsburgh Press. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.