A Phonecall from Frank O’Hara

By Anne Waldman b. 1945 Anne Waldman

“That all these dyings may be life in death”

I was living in San Francisco   
My heart was in Manhattan
It made no sense, no reference point   
Hearing the sad horns at night,   
fragile evocations of female stuff   
The 3 tones (the last most resonant)
were like warnings, haiku-muezzins at dawn
The call came in the afternoon   
“Frank, is that really you?”

I'd awake chilled at dawn
in the wooden house like an old ship   
Stay bundled through the day
sitting on the stoop to catch the sun
I lived near the park whose deep green   
over my shoulder made life cooler   
Was my spirit faltering, grown duller?
I want to be free of poetry's ornaments,   
its duty, free of constant irritation,   
me in it, what was grander reason   
for being? Do it, why? (Why, Frank?)   
To make the energies dance etc.

My coat a cape of horrors
I'd walk through town or
impending earthquake. Was that it?   
Ominous days. Street shiny with   
hallucinatory light on sad dogs,
too many religious people, or a woman   
startled me by her look of indecision   
near the empty stadium
I walked back spooked by
my own darkness
Then Frank called to say
“What? Not done complaining yet?   
Can't you smell the eucalyptus,
have you never neared the Pacific?   
‘While frank and free/call for
musick while your veins swell’”   
he sang, quoting a metaphysician   
"Don't you know the secret, how to   
wake up and see you don't exist, but   
that does, don't you see phenomena   
is so much more important than this?   
I always love that.”
“Always?” I cried, wanting to believe him   
“Yes.” “But say more! How can you if   
it's sad & dead?” “But that's just it!   
If! It isn't. It doesn't want to be
Do you want to be?” He was warming to his song   
“Of course I don't have to put up with as   
much as you do these days. These years.   
But I do miss the color, the architecture,   
the talk. You know, it was the life!   
And dying is such an insult. After all   
I was in love with breath and I loved   
embracing those others, the lovers,   
with my body.” He sighed & laughed   
He wasn't quite as I'd remembered him   
Not less generous, but more abstract   
Did he even have a voice now, I wondered   
or did I think it up in the middle   
of this long day, phone in hand now   
dialing Manhattan

Anne Waldman, “A Phonecall from Frank O’Hara” from Helping the Dreamer: Selected Poems, 1966-1988. Copyright © 1989 by Anne Waldman. Reprinted with the permission of Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, www.coffeehousepress.com.

Source: Helping the Dreamer: Selected Poems 1966-1988 (Coffee House Press, 1989)

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Poet Anne Waldman b. 1945

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

SCHOOL / PERIOD New York School (2nd Generation)

Subjects Friends & Enemies, Death, Poetry & Poets, Living, Relationships, Arts & Sciences

 Anne  Waldman


The author of more than 40 collections of poetry and poetics, Anne Waldman is an active member of the Outrider experimental poetry movement, and has been connected to the Beat movement and the second generation of the New York School. Her publications include Fast Speaking Woman (1975), Marriage: A Sentence (2000), and the multi-volume Iovis project (1992, 1993, 1997).

Her work as a cultural activist and her practice of Tibetan . . .

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SUBJECT Friends & Enemies, Death, Poetry & Poets, Living, Relationships, Arts & Sciences

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

SCHOOL / PERIOD New York School (2nd Generation)

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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