The view up Broadway, Manhattan, Summer 1956
It's my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among 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 Times Square, where the sign
blows smoke over my head, and higher
the waterfall pours lightly. A
Negro stands in a doorway with a
toothpick, languorously agitating.
A blonde chorus girl clicks: he
smiles and rubs his chin. Everything
suddenly honks: it is 12:40 of
Neon in daylight is a
great pleasure, as Edwin Denby would
write, as are light bulbs in daylight.
I stop for a cheeseburger at JULIET'S
CORNER. Giulietta Masina, wife of
Federico Fellini, e bell' attrice.
And chocolate malted. A lady in
foxes on such a day puts her poodle
in a cab.
There are several Puerto
Ricans on the avenue today, which
makes it beautiful and warm. First
Bunny died, then John Latouche,
then Jackson Pollack. But is the
earth as full as life was full, of them?
And one has eaten and one walks,
past the magazines with nudes
and the posters for BULLFIGHT and
the Manhattan Storage Warehouse,
which they'll soon tear down. I
used to think they had the Armory
A glass of papaya juice
and back to work. My heart is in my
pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy.
Note: I woke up and soon started thinking about this poem this morning. It often crosses my mind, especially as the weather warms and I recall many hot summers in New York City from my teenage and early worker years, spending lots of time walking the streets Frank O’Hara describes so perfectly. It was then that I formed most of the interests that continue to guide me today, which resemble some of O’Hara’s, so the poem continues to inspire, resonate and as I’ve gotten older, reveal more of itself while staying eternally young and sadly hopeful.
Every detail here reminds me of a particular street corner – amazing – and I’m glad that this New York is still alive in my mind. I’m not much of a literary scholar, so I was surprised when researching A Step Away From Them to find that it has affected so many other people as much as it has me. One hundred years from now I don’t think anyone will understand a word of the poem, except for the killer last line, which says just about everything.
Frank O’Hara pictured with James Schuyler, 1956
Same view as above taken a couple of blocks below in Times Square, New Year’s Eve, 1956