Jun. 27, 2003

Ave Maria

by Frank O'Hara

FRIDAY, 27 JUNE 2003
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"Ave Maria," by Frank O'Hara from The Selected Poems of Frank O'Hara (Vintage).

Ave Maria

Mothers of America
                      let your kids go to the movies!
get them out of the house so they won't know what you're up to
it's true that fresh air is good for the body
                              but what about the soul
that grows in darkness, embossed by silvery images
and when you grow old as grow old as you must
                                they won't hate you
they won't criticize you they won't know
                        they'll be in some glamorous country
they first saw on a Saturday afternoon or playing hookey
they may even be grateful to you
                              for their first sexual experience
which only cost you a quarter
                                and didn't upset the peaceful home
they will know where candy bars come from
                          and gratuitous bags of popcorn
as gratuitous as leaving the movie before it's over
with a pleasant stranger whose apartment is in the Heaven on Earth Bldg
near the Williamsburg Bridge
              oh mothers you will have made the little tykes
so happy because if nobody does pick them up in the movies
they won't know the difference
                  and if somebody does it'll be sheer gravy
and they'll have been truly entertained either way
instead of hanging around the yard
                or up in their room
                      hating you
prematurely since you won't have done anything horribly mean yet
except keeping them from the darker joys
                        it's unforgivable the latter
so don't blame me if you won't take this advice
                            and the family breaks up
and your children grow old and blind in front of a TV set
movies you wouldn't let them see when they were young

Literary Notes:

On this day in 1928, Sylvia Beach invited James Joyce and Scott Fitzgerald to a dinner party above her Paris bookstore Shakespeare & Company. Fitzgerald became drunk and said that he was such a fan of Joyce's work that he would throw himself out the window to prove it. Neither writer was having much success: Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby hadn't sold well, and Joyce's Ulysses (1922) wouldn't be published outside of Paris for another five years. Both men died only 13 years later, less than a month apart, with no money and few readers.

On this day in 1829, English scientist James Smithson died. Even though he had never been to America, he left behind a will that said that if his only nephew died without any heirs, his whole estate should go to the United States of America, to found the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. He left a fortune including 11 boxes of over 100,000 gold sovereigns. After the gold was melted down, it was worth well over $500,000. Today, the Smithsonian is composed of 18 museums and galleries around the world, including the National Museums of Natural and American History, the National Zoological Park, the National Portrait Gallery, and the National Air and Space Museum.

It's the birthday of poet Frank O'Hara, born in Baltimore, Maryland (1925). O'Hara always believed he was born on this day in 1926, but his parents lied about his birthday to hide the fact that he was conceived before their marriage. He joined the U.S. Navy, served as a sonarman on a destroyer during World War II, and went to Harvard on the G.I. Bill. He met his friend, the poet John Ashbery, there, and a few years later they met up again in New York City, where they became part of the New York School of poets. O'Hara wanted a job that gave him time to write, so he worked the front desk at the Museum of Modern Art, selling tickets and postcards, and in 1952 he published his first book of poetry, A City Winter, and Other Poems.

It's the birthday of novelist Alice McDermott, born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1953. Her books are set in Queens and on Long Island, New York, where she grew up. Her parents were first generation Irish-Americans, and they discouraged McDermott from becoming a writer, so she struck a compromise, got a job as a secretary at a vanity press, and used the experience in her first novel, A Bigamist's Daughter (1982). Her novel Charming Billy (1998), about a loveable alcoholic who was never able to marry the woman he loved, won the National Book Award.

It's the birthday of poet and children's author, Lucille Clifton, born in Depew, New York (1936). She had six children under ten years old when her first poetry collection, Good Times (1969), was called one of the ten best books of the year by The New York Times. She became Maryland's Poet Laureate in 1974, and published her collected poems, Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, in 2000.

It's the birthday of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, born in Dayton, Ohio (1872), America's first great black poet. He was the only African American in high school, but he was editor of his high school paper and president of the literary club. He published his first poems in the Dayton Herald when he was sixteen, and he published his first poetry collection, Oak and Ivy (1893), while working as an elevator operator, selling copies to his passengers.

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