Tuesday, May 22, 2012

After reading Frank O'Hara


Frank O'Hara's perspective is profoundly urban, and I love his leaps and dives. The poem I read before my foray in the garden was not this one, a favorite, and with rare observations of nature. But it ended up inspiring mine. I don't know how he does it, just what he describes, to deepen you with his quickness. He catches that sense we get from a poem when you simultaneously feel you've discovered the deepest truth for the first time, but that you also knew it all along.

by Frank O'Hara

The only way to be quiet
is to be quick, so I scare
you clumsily, or surprise
you with a stab. A praying
mantis knows time more
intimately than I and is
more casual. Crickets use
time for accompaniment to
innocent fidgeting. A zebra
races counterclockwise.
All this I desire. To
deepen you by my quickness
and delight as if you
were logical and proven,
but still be quiet as if
I were used to you; as if
you would never leave me
and were the inexorable
product of my own time.

I actually wrote my poem below after reading another O'Hara poem, "Meditations in an Emergency" with the lines:
However, I have never clogged myself with the praises of pastoral life, nor with nostalgia for an innocent past of perverted acts in pastures. No. One need never leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes—I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life.

After reading Frank O’Hara

I am weeding
the bed of mint—
spearmint peppermint
chocolate —
and feel the quick stab
of stinging nettles
through garden gloves

the damn leaves
almost the same
and while I rub
the tender spot
you tell me
it is good
for pain

No kidding, I think

But what you mean
is that its extract
relieves pain
in joints and such

and so I squat back
down in the delicious air
and let the pain
surprise my hands
with goodness
they feel it

May 2012



Kathleen said...

Oh, I so enjoyed this. His poem, your poem, and the nettle sting. (Sorry for enjoying that.) I have a poem about nettles, too, and have just been pulling up a couple baby nettles where lupine and balsam are coming up from seed. My mint is probably catmint, which will make Boo Radley, the cat I'll be catsitting in August, very happy...

hedgewitch said...

Love the working of the metaphors in this , Ruth. Weeding often brings the contemplative mind into a quickness, I find--painful as it always is to knees and hands, it soothes and leaves an opened soil--so the analogy to the nettles is more singing than stinging. Thanks for the O'Hara--he's a personal favorite, and anything with crickets always works for me.

Lorna Cahall said...

What a wonderful combination of poetry and your thoughts about O'Hara. Thank you - I'm looking at his work more closely. Your observation of that uncanny -this is new- alongside of-I've always known this- it so, so on the mark. A wonderful mystery!

rosaria williams said...

My definition of good poetry: after you read it, you discover you have new eyes.

I saw through new eyes!

Ruth said...

Kathleen, I'm actually glad you enjoyed my nettle sting: redemption! And Boo Radley has made me happy in advance with his/her name.

Ruth said...

Hedge, yay and thanks for singing nettles and crickets! My son-in-law said yesterday after we planted flowers and I complained about stiffness, "No one has made gardening ergonomic yet."

Ruth said...

Lorna, I'm pleased to bring O'Hara closer to you. I don't read him that often, but when I lug out my big collection, I am never disappointed. Now why I don't pull him out more often is also a mystery!

Ruth said...

rosaria, that is an excellent definition. I will leave it to mystery which poem gave you new eyes, though I'm guessing it was O'Hara's! Or maybe both (since you have two eyes after all).

erin said...

i love that you read O'Hara's poem, i read his poem, you say you don't know what he does, he intones much the same, and i agree, and yet we all are changed. what the hell? ha! poetry! how does it do that?

and then your poem, it is so reflective of you, and do i imagine you are saying to me, duhhhhh, ya, i know...more pain. i laugh. it is a mirror, your poem. aren't all poems? don't we look to see ourselves inside of them?


Ruth said...

erin, language is the messenger of life, and poems are the pony express. I almost want to say that language is life, for it feels that way to me much of the time. So when I read the words of someone who knows how to wield their power, there is the possibility of becoming one with them, if I submit.

Vagabonde said...

Your poem is light and funny. I enjoyed reading O’Hara too and agree with him “One need never leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes.” We were just in New York and were surrounded by greenery. We also went to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden – an oasis of beauty and peace.

Louise Gallagher said...

First off-- I did not know zebras race counterclockwise!

His poem makes me fall in love and your poem quickens the feeling of love embracing me.

How lovely!

Stratoz said...

To be honest what this mainly did for me was remind me of how much I enjoyed the short stories of another O'Hara... John. ;')

Mark Kerstetter said...

You're very brave, putting your poem right next to 'Poetry' by O'Hara! It's incredible.

I really like, in his longer prose poem, how he debunks the notion that the best way to "be" or to notice little things is to sit quietly in a pastoral setting. And I really like how you reflect on the way a jarring or upsetting moment in a pastoral setting (something one might more readily associate with city life) can also be used to "be". I hope that's clear. But I feel your poem. My partner sometimes chides me because she thinks I'm not enjoying the moment like I should. But she doesn't realize that when I'm working on a ladder, for example, and I'm hot and in pain, actually, I still notice how blue the sky is and how beautiful the blossoms are.

Ruth said...

Vagabonde, I feel, truly feel, something real when I read O'Hara. He is true NY (like true North). He is true O'Hara. I think that when a person is truly himself, another person can't help but be inspired to be truly herself. But it is not easy to find that truth, understand it, and express it.

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden sounds beautiful, even just the name.

Ruth said...

Louise, neither did I. I am happy the two poems made you feel love! Oh I feel it too.

Ruth said...

Stratoz, I am quite happy that the post brought those stories back to mind, and your enjoyment of them.

Ruth said...

Mark, thanks, but I would be brave if I were afraid, or took myself very seriously.

Thank you for what you said, because your comment made me realize the truth of where this poem came from: an additional source. I was not only thinking of O'Hara, but also of Roethke, and finding connection with new rooms of consciousness via painful experience.

Maybe you can stay out in the hot sun and endure the physical pain because there is such beauty around you. Bless you.

Montag said...


I seem to have lost your email address, so here's the scoop:

Overheard in Birmingham from a lady who works at Cranbrook:
they (whoever "they" are) are going to start restoration of the boathouse this summer.

Isn't that interesting.

The Solitary Walker said...

Omigod! How did he know? And how do you know? Just back from a sharp but delicious camino. And the grillons sang throughout Much to catch up on . . .

Ruth said...

Montag, that is quite interesting! We put it out to the universe, and our wish may become reality.

Ruth said...

Robert, welcome back! "Sharp" "delicious", and the songs of grillons have whetted my appetite for tales of the camino. Can't wait to hear!

Ginnie said...

Astrid is forever warning me about the stinging nettles here in Holland, Ruth, so I had to chuckle my way through this, though a bit nervously. And after my tooth was pulled a week ago, I got 2 canker sores to supposedly allow the pain to surprise my mouth! HA!