This week’s writing challenge prompted us to craft something inspired by Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems. I have spent the week reading these poems and, as with his contemporaries – especially Jack Kerouac – I have completely fallen in love with his free, stream-of-consciousness style. Of course, those two weren’t exactly friends:
Kerouac: You’re ruining American poetry, O’Hara!
O’Hara: That’s more than you ever did for it!
Below are some attempts at my own style of observational poetry, mostly written while I was out and about around lunchtime this past week.
The cold temperatures continue
and it’s all people can talk about
how cold it is
how they hate to venture out
how it bites at your face
and whips the breath from your nostrils
leaving ice on your scarf by your mouth.
Two women pass by briskly,
they’re wearing nice boots and coats and hats,
and they’re discussing how they would like
to go skating
but it is too cold,
though they don’t have far to go
because a car is waiting right there,
warm, just for them.
Shopkeepers ask if each of their customers is keeping warm –
the girls at the tea shop
and the women in the clothing store
and the man where I buy my coffee –
their voices follow us out the door each time
sing-songing their hope that we “keep warm!”
It’s all anyone can talk about
the cold and staying warm.
One lonely, or perhaps not lonely, skater
makes his way down the ice
arms swinging to and fro
is it too cold to skate today?
I haven’t been outside
but I hear it is.
I wonder if I have time to eat my lunch
before all the things I have to do.
I consider what to eat –
a leftover chunk of beef, or eggs, or salad.
A man runs down the frozen street
with his dog
their breaths puffing
making little smokey clouds
in rhythm with each other.
He’s not wearing much,
considering the day,
no hat even –
the man, not the dog.
Though some do dress up their pets,
and there is a frostbite warning,
but the dog just has his fur.
They disappear around the corner
and then the street is empty,
no one out now in these temperatures.
It’s warm in the sunshine,
in the house,
and I turn away from the window
to find something to eat.
A man looking down and out
Hobbles up to the pharmacy counter
Smiling a gap toothed smile
from behind his knitted toque
and beat-up leather jacket.
The women know him and greet him,
he must come in often.
They say they’ll have his prescription in a moment
without even having to look at it.
“Good, thanks” he replies, laughing
a bit erratically,
“‘Cos I only have one transfer an’
if don’t catch my bus
I’ll be walkin’.
An’ it’s cold,” he continues,
“an’ I don’t want to be walkin’.”
He wanders the aisles,
bantering to himself
or to those that reply
and then the ladies call his name
and tell him his prescription is ready.
“‘S ok,” he says,
“I missed my bus anyway.”
He talks about getting food at the place his wife stays
then shuffles off still laughing.
I sit on one of the chairs
I’m sick and
waiting for my own prescription
watching people come and go
at just after noon.
But no one is as ready to laugh
as the nomadic man.
An older lady in head to toe
black silky furs sits down carefully beside me
her hands fold neatly over her purse
she checks her watch
then folds her hands again.
When her name is called
she opens up
becoming chatty and friendly
an interesting transformation
but all I can see now is the pain in my head.
I am wracked with fever
shivering under covers
but hungry too
dreaming of pretzels
just out of reach.
I am hot in turns but then cold in my feet
and I wonder, half-mad,
whether I can wear moccasins in bed.
“Oh look, only 8 minutes to wait,”
says one girl to the other
as they enter the building just ahead of me.
In the lobby
Iunch break is almost over
people are coming and going and waiting
the security guard nods
the gate keeper is on the phone
his is just one of the snippets of conversation here
overlaid, one upon the other
like the carpets
in that Persian carpet shop –
the one in the market.
“There are lots of people who work here
do you know which section she’s in?”
he asks of the voice on the phone.
No, they don’t, it seems.
“Then maybe call back in ten minutes
Everyone will be back from their lunches by then”.
He waves me on
I walk down the hall
the comings and goings continue
people criss-crossing ahead and behind me
lives slipping past lives.
A door opens,
“She’s younger?” – high-pitched frivolity
“She’s younger than me!”
“You make my day,” replies an older tone.
Then the voices fall down
following their sources as they disappear down the hall.
A dour faced woman inhabits a large easy chair
across from me
turning magazine pages
without seeing them it seems.
More magazines are strewn upon the table
haphazard, like conversations.
“Cold, so cold,” says an elderly woman to herself
as she parks her walker and takes a seat.
I move my book for her.
“Cold” she repeats
and I smile in agreement.
She gets up and wheels away again
leaving the dour faced woman and I
to not acknowledge each other.
A door opens behind me
someone emerges, humming
good naturedly, as she passes
and the dour face cracks
into a most infectious laugh
it is deep and throaty and real
and I think,
you never can tell, can you,
what lurks behind
that thin veil?