Another Epistle to Frank O'Hara

- 1953-
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
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.

More by David Wojahn

Spirit Cabinet [excerpt]

. . . 

& how, o spirits, shall I invoke you, who cannot count himself
    among the chosen?
My writings & keenings are interior & treated by appropriate
    prescription drugs,

to whom my conversion is incomplete, for some days I devote myself
    solely to my dead
& in my error I do seek them & do wail. From the wire mesh
    I glimpse the chalk marks,

aflicker on a kind of slate. Here is the glyph of patchouli-smell,
    graven on a scarf
or silken dress. & here the character for a chin nicked while shaving,
    stubble edging a dime-sized birthmark,

. . . 


Coming always from below, blade wail & its pungency


laddering up toward my childhood room, my nostrils


sick-sweet with it. Below he worked his grave machines,


tintinnabulous their whirr & snarl.


His face in sawdust spray: sweat beads


nacreous & a pollen lather, canary yellow.


Resinous the wood where he’s entombed.


Resinous the wood, who rises spectra


this morning with the saber saws, churning the house


they’re building down the street below my study,


latticework beams. Sawdust visage flaring, ceremonial mask


lifted down from the ill-lit gallery


& placed by him upon my face. Eye-slits for sight,


bright gash for speech, two raw nail holes for scent.

Related Poems

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