FRANK O'HARA’s “Having a Coke With You” always seems to me like a good poem to read at a wedding, until I read it again. After which I love it even more, and realize once again how unsuitable it actually is for such an occasion. The poem is about the distance one lover feels toward another in the first, uncertain times of a relationship. Its lines are full of hope and intense attraction to the lover, and the world the lover moves through, and also the things we know, but don’t yet want to know we know, about how we are really feeling with this new person. This state of new love fills the poet with an energy that allows him in turn to fill the lines with what can be called mundane nobility:
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles.
Whenever I read those lines I think it was entirely in the hope of having such moments that I moved to New York and had experiences. But the seeds of the anxiety are there, as they are in the whole poem. They reside in the difficulty of phrases like “it is hard to believe” and “unpleasantly definitive.” The fact that “thank heavens” this person has not gone to the Frick yet is just like that experience of listening to your friend explain how great it is that a new boy/girlfriend doesn’t share your interests or talk much because it helps you “recognize the way I’ve been taking for granted my own enthusiasms.” You smile and nod and think two months max if the sex is pretty good.
In this video (below) of him reading the poem I love the way he looks up when he reads the “spectacles” line. He knows how good it is, it’s not even arrogant, it’s the completely objective recognition of the presence of poetry. He just happened to write it. But the reason why this wonderful, beautiful poem is not a good one to read at weddings is right there in the last line.
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully as the horse
it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it
Great relationships and marriages are not made out of people telling each other things, in a kind of strenuous overdetermined attempt to connect and find commonality. True love begins and continues with a lifetime of a different kind of telling and listening. I feel so sorry for O’Hara here, in his loneliness, and even sorrier that he died only a year older than I am now in a stupid tra...read more