Frank O’Hara, “Memorial Day 1950”

Frank O'Hara, on leave from the Navy with his parents and brother and sister, 1944
Frank O’Hara, home on leave from the Navy,
with his parents and brother and sister (1944)

Picasso made me tough and quick, and the world;
just as in a minute plane trees are knocked down
outside my window by a crew of creators.
Once he got his axe going everyone was upset
enough to fight for the last ditch and heap
of rubbish.
Through all that surgery I thought
I had a lot to say, and named several last things
Gertrude Stein hadn’t had time for; but then
the war was over, those things had survived
and even when you’re scared art is no dictionary.
Max Ernst told us that.
How many trees and frying pans
I loved and lost! Guernica hollered look out!
but we were all busy hoping our eyes were talking
to Paul Klee. My mother and father asked me and
I told them from my tight blue pants we should
love only the stones, the sea, and heroic figures.
Wasted child! I’ll club you on the shins! I
wasn’t surprised when the older people entered
my cheap hotel room and broke my guitar and my can
of blue paint.
At that time all of us began to think
with our bare hands and even with blood all over
them, we knew vertical from horizontal, we never
smeared anything except to find out how it lived.
Fathers of Dada! You carried shining erector sets
in your rough bony pockets, you were generous
and they were lovely as chewing gum or flowers!
Thank you!
And those of us who thought poetry
was crap were throttled by Auden or Rimbaud
when, sent by some compulsive Juno, we tried
to play with collages or sprechstimme in their bed
Poetry didn’t tell me not to play with toys
but alone I could never have figured out that dolls
meant death.
Our responsibilities did not begin
in dreams, though they began in bed. Love is first of all
a lesson in utility. I hear the sewage singing
underneath my bright white toilet seat and know
that somewhere sometime it will reach the sea:
gulls and swordfishes will find it richer than a river.
And airplanes are perfect mobiles, independent
of the breeze; crashing in flames they show us how
to be prodigal. O Boris Pasternak, it may be silly
to call to you, so tall in the Urals, but your voice
cleans our world, clearer to us than the hospital:
you sounds above the factory’s ambitious gargle.
Poetry is as useful as a machine!
Look at my room.
Guitar strings hold up pictures. I don’t need
a piano to sing, and naming things is only the intention
to make things. A locomotive is more melodious
than a cello. I dress in oil cloth and read music
by Guillaume Apollinaire’s clay candelabra. Now
my father is dead and has found out you must look things
in the belly, not in the eye. If only he had listened
to the men who made us, hollering like stuck pigs!

— Frank O’Hara (1950)

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1 Response to Frank O’Hara, “Memorial Day 1950”

  1. Pingback: preliminary reading assignment: Frank O’Hara – ENG 394: The Avant-Garde

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