A Step Away From Them by Frank O’Hara
More than a year ago during class, my dear friend S. said, “When I read this poem, I have this wonderful, relaxed feeling of just walking around with O’Hara, happy to be aimless, happy to put a poem in my pocket, as he does with Reverdy.”
I said, Whenever I read O’Hara, I feel like I’m in his pocket, and he’s carrying me around with him during lunch time. I always like to imagine myself sitting in the dark, swaying as Frank moves gently through the crowd. And I am probably in the company of loose change, a handkerchief perhaps, or some cigarettes. I am unraveling a piece of paper maybe, or flipping open a book, and it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy, and I am whispering lines to myself, and Frank is writing his poems in his head.
A lot of poems out there tie the heart with romantic things, or people. I like how with Frank it is a book, it is poems, it is words (it is why he is a poet, and not a painter!). Ginsberg said Frank helped him see New York, and for me as a reader, Frank helped me realise, made me think, about what is important to people, individuals. That everything is relative. That for Frank it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy, and for my neighbour it is probably sweeping the canal in front of her house every morning, and for my father it is perhaps polishing the silverware every other weekend for a whole afternoon.
I’ve been thinking about where my heart is. How it keeps me anchored, even as I open myself to everything around me.
I’ve been thinking about pockets. How intimate it is, to place your heart in your pocket—as opposed to wearing your heart on your sleeve, which to me means being exposed and vulnerable. It’s like an inside joke, a secret. I am thinking of what we put in pockets—essentials and things we forget, both. I am thinking of the phrase, emptying out your pockets, and how it seems full of meaning now.
I’ve been thinking about the way the line breaks between my and pocket. The drop from one word to the next almost seems like a gesture, like a hand falling down to the pocket, as if feeling for it, as if to remind himself of what’s there.
Today it’s Christmas Eve. It is two in the morning. I’ve woken up suddenly around midnight, feeling like I have forgotten to do something, and now I’m sat here on my desk writing. Maybe I’ll take a walk. Or go back to bed. Read a book. Dream. Gather my life closely to my chest. Marvel at the passing days.
A Step Away From Them
It’s my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-colored
cabs. First, down the sidewalk
where laborers feed their dirty
glistening torsos sandwiches
and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets
on. They protect them from falling
bricks, I guess. Then onto the
avenue where skirts are flipping
above heels and blow up over
grates. The sun is hot, but the
cabs stir up the air. I look
at bargains in wristwatches. There
are cats playing in sawdust.
to Times Square, where the sign
blows smoke over my head, and higher
the waterfall pours lightly. A
Negro stands in a doorway with a
toothpick, languorously agitating.
A blonde chorus girl clicks: he
smiles and rubs his chin. Everything
suddenly honks: it is 12:40 of
Neon in daylight is a
great pleasure, as Edwin Denby would
write, as are light bulbs in daylight.
I stop for a cheeseburger at JULIET’S
CORNER. Giulietta Masina, wife of
Federico Fellini, è bell’ attrice.
And chocolate malted. A lady in
foxes on such a day puts her poodle
in a cab.
There are several Puerto
Ricans on the avenue today, which
makes it beautiful and warm. First
Bunny died, then John Latouche,
then Jackson Pollock. But is the
earth as full as life was full, of them?
And one has eaten and one walks,
past the magazines with nudes
and the posters for BULLFIGHT and
the Manhattan Storage Warehouse,
which they’ll soon tear down. I
used to think they had the Armory
A glass of papaya juice
and back to work. My heart is in my
pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy.
This is from Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara, published by City Lights Books, 1964.