By Joe Osterhaus
(posted Wednesday, Aug. 13)
To hear the poet read “The Vanishing,” click here.
Awful that, when Frank O’Hara died,
his close friends raced to stop his family
from taking his unpublished manuscripts,
so jimmied his apartment door, to find
oblivion already settling like a coiled flail
on the dirty dishes, clothes, unopened mail.
As they rummaged through the pleated files
and squeezed new music from the notices,
what did this say of his allegiances;
just how impermanent they were? A life
spent thinking in the theaters, drinking in
like cherry soda with mind-numbing fizz
America’s slow vanishing, whose pace
was doubled, not restrained, by celluloid.
The summer nights on Fire Island, propped
on hard liquor like driftwood in a scuttle;
the winter nights in violin-backed chairs
(the slender tenors with their pompadours!)
at charity events–it all broke down,
packed up and slipped away with the winched kick
of a stage set knocked down by ball-peen hammers.
The tragedy was that his family
had final right to claim him in the end
and not the dry-eyed poets in the pews;
who never tried to see their world in his
or how he’d bled the neon of its light.
Just as he frightened the dolorous tradition
and scatted new echoes from the mossy wells,
we still fall short of his ideal republic
where we won’t have to buy appliances.
Set sail on that ocean liner, sheer
as a glacier, with moonlight churning below,
and in the ballroom take your tall seat at the bar–
as the ship glides from the confetti dock
a generation dons its clothes, then vanishes,
and, staring at the hard dew on your glass,
you intuit the eons that glitter and pass
to each side of the glacier as it moves
and lift your eyes–
the only passenger,
you watch as the ballroom dopples and becomes
the inside of the glacier, flawed, but bright; or
a brick wall under a fire escape, at night; or
the moon held in the curved arms of a bridge.