Frank O’Hara’s poetry collection “Lunch Poems,” first published in 1964, is celebrating its 50-year anniversary.
I own a small used paperback copy of “Lunch Poems” that I bought two years ago. I had heard that O’Hara wrote many of these poems during his lunch breaks while working at the Museum of Modern Art, so I thought I might occasionally read a poem or two during my own museum-job lunch breaks.
Here’s the first stanza of “A Step Away from Them,” written in 1956. It’s a vintage slice of New York in summertime.
It’s my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk amongst the hum-colored
cabs. First, down the sidewalk
where laborers feed their dirty
glistening torsos sandwiches
and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets
on. They protect them from falling
bricks, I guess. Then onto the
avenue where skirts are flipping
above heels and blow up over
grates. The sun is hot, but the
cabs stir up the air. I look
at bargains in wristwatches. There
are cats playing in sawdust.
To read the entire poem, click here.
To read a short New York Times article about the anniversary of “Lunch Poems,” click here.
Image: Leonard Freed, Wall Street, 1956.
2 thoughts on “Quick Reads: Frank O’Hara, “A Step Away from Them” (excerpt)”
Frank O’Hara is absolutely necessary for those who work live or pass through midtown Manhattan. I used to read him before I ever lived in NY, just for the detail and flavor of Manhattan, seen through the eyes of an ultra sophisticate. Thanks for bringing out this beauty today.
I’m so glad you enjoyed this snippet! He really is one of the essential New York writers.