Quick Reads: Frank O’Hara, “A Step Away from Them” (excerpt)

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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.