The Vanishing

The Vanishing

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from taking his unpublished manuscripts,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.