Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Parenting via Frank O'Hara

When I visited City Lights bookstore last weekend in San Francisco, I wandered through the poetry section in near rapture, up the stairs in the ether and gathered a few books to flip through, those I knew and those I had never heard of, thinking how poetry endures, the toil of it, despite. Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems is a small book to revel in, and this poem one of my favorites:

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 boy

                                                                but what about the soul

that grows in darkness, embossed by silvery images

and when you grow old as grow old 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

Frank O'Hara, 1960


  1. I smile and sigh. Yes, and yes; and no and no. As a mother, it's hard to let go.
    Thanks for sharing this, E.

  2. WOW.. you find the greatest "stuff" Thanks.. got me thinking again... think I'll take my kids to the movies, as tut tut it looks like rain here in the east!

  3. I did let them go to the movies even when inside I was screeching noooo so this poem is a reassurance except I cant help thinking it was a different world in 1960 but doesn't every generation say that? Why does it seem that all time before our own was simpler? It wasn't of course but since we didn't have to live it we have the luxury of romanticizing it. This poem evokes a sweet aching melancholy in me. I find I don't mind it at all. Love.

  4. I love the feel of this poem! So clever and slightly naughty and flip. Thank you!

  5. i leave long comments from my kindle fire, and they post to your comments page, but then i look for them later on my laptop and they are no where to be found. moral: don't leave comments from the kindle fire.

    i do love this. and i did let them go to the movies, they would not have it any other way, and i didn't want them to realize they could bald-faced defy me, so i said yes more than i truly wanted to, just to maintain the fiction that i had any sort of say. ha!

    but 1960 was a different time than we live in now, and doesn't every generation say that? no matter what i did, they will still be on a therapist's couch someday, dissecting what I did and didnt. it's the only way this works. i gave them what i needed, what i thought they needed, but did i give them what THEY needed. they don't even know the full answer to that yet.

    i love you, dear elizabeth. i am glad to be here.

  6. Because once, as a nine-year-old, I sat down (alone) next to a pedophile in a movie theater, I would have later wanted to say no to my (imaginary) children: No, you can't go because of my experience, you mustn't go. Would this poem have changed my mind? I'll be thinking about it today, that's for sure. And feeling grateful because you always, always make me think.

  7. just 5 minutes ago, my ten yr old asked if I could take her and 2 friends to the mall and "drop them off there" ... I hate the mall ... I'd rather let her see a movie any day



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