Frank O’Hara, “Nocturne”

Is it April 30 already? My goodness, I’d hoped to post more poems during the month, but time slips away. Here is one more, anyway.

I’ve always struggled a bit with Frank O’Hara; whenever I read through a collection of his, I find myself moving rapidly through the pages, the poems themselves running together (and my eyes glazing over a bit) as if I were flipping through someone else’s bedside dream journal. It has only been relatively recently that I have tried to train myself to read him more deliberately, one poem at a time, to see what lies behind the apparently unstructured work.

For example, flipping through his collected poems the other day, I came across this one. The first quick read brought me to a full stop and demanded several rereads, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since. The poem reminds me of my first few decades, that sense of misplaced orientation (“It’s the architect’s fault”) provoking distance from other people – but which was frankly more of an excuse for certain attitudes and behaviors than their cause. You have no telephone, and live so far away.


There’s nothing worse
than feeling bad and not
being able to tell you.
Not because you’d kill me
or it would kill you, or
we don’t love each other.
It’s space. The sky is grey
and clear, with pink and
blue shadows under each cloud.
A tiny airliner drops its
specks over the U N Building.
My eyes, like millions of
glassy squares, merely reflect.
Everything sees through me,
in the daytime I’m too hot
and at night I freeze; I’m
built the wrong way for the
river and a mild gale would
break every fiber in me.
Why don’t I go east and west
instead of north and south?
It’s the architect’s fault.
And in a few years I’ll be
useless, not even an office
building. Because you have
no telephone, and live so
far away; the Pepsi-Cola sign,
the seagulls and the noise.

Frank O’Hara

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