Another from Dorianne Laux: “To Kiss Frank. . .”:
make out with him a bit, this
is what my friend would like to do
oh these too many dead summers later,
and as much as I want to stroll with her
into the poet’s hazy fancy
all I can see is O’Hara’s long-gone lips
fallen free of the bone, slumbering
beneath the grainy soil.
I can hear Frank’s dry voice
combing the air for song, but what I see
is his skeleton entombed in dust, wrapped
in his dapper suit, his razzle-dazzle sunglasses.
She sees him alive, ambling
down a sidewalk, all of New York
clambering into the sky behind him,
cuff links winking, his dear friends waving,
calling him by name like they do in the city:
800,000 people and you step outside for a smoke
and see someone you know.
That’s how it is with death.
Those you love come at you like lightning,
crackle for an instant—so kissable—
and then lips and all, they’re gone.
Laux (and her friend) refers to New York poet Frank O’Hara (1926-1966), curator of the Museum of Modern Art, and one of those poets whose songs are not sung enough. As always with the finest craftsmen, Laux puts more in this work than there appears to be. Two different attitudes toward human mortality, poised in a single figure. O’Hara, yes, but more than him; praise of men; and, finally, praise for all those who matter to us. Of those last three lines, I ask you, are they not true?