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Talking to the Sun at Summer Solstice

When I was 9, my mom bought me a book of poetry called "Talking to the Sun." I regularly got lost in it, in no small part because its pages were densely packed with amazing art from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This favorite book became a constant companion even as I moved multiple times a year during college, to now, over 20 years later. If I ever have a child of my own, "Talking to the Sun" will certainly be among the many treasured and beautiful volumes given me by my very cool, art-loving mother passed down to the next generation.

The poem below is the last poem in the book, and is the poem from which the anthology gets its title. I read it today under the noonday Solstice sun. (The painting, "The Repast of the Lion" by Henri Rousseau, is what accompanied the poem in the book, but as it was a collection for children, they cropped out the actual lion and his gory repast.) One good thing about growing up is that you can revisit poems and songs and paintings from your childhood and understand them better. Happy Solstice.

P.S. Sometimes I like substituting the word "herbalist" for "poet" in the following verses, and adjusting the rest accordingly.


A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island

by Frank O'Hara

The Sun woke me this morning loud   
and clear, saying “Hey! I've been   
trying to wake you up for fifteen   
minutes. Don’t be so rude, you are   
only the second poet I’ve ever chosen   
to speak to personally
                                  so why
aren’t you more attentive? If I could   
burn you through the window I would   
to wake you up. I can't hang around   
here all day.”
                      “Sorry, Sun, I stayed   
up late last night talking to Hal.”

“When I woke up Mayakovsky he was   
a lot more prompt” the Sun said   
petulantly. “Most people are up
already waiting to see if I’m going   
to put in an appearance.”
                                       I tried
to apologize “I missed you yesterday.”   
“That’s better” he said. “I didn’t   
know you’d come out.” “You may be   
wondering why I’ve come so close?”   
“Yes” I said beginning to feel hot   
wondering if maybe he wasn’t burning me   
            “Frankly I wanted to tell you   
I like your poetry. I see a lot
on my rounds and you’re okay. You may   
not be the greatest thing on earth, but   
you’re different. Now, I’ve heard some   
say you’re crazy, they being excessively   
calm themselves to my mind, and other   
crazy poets think that you’re a boring   
reactionary. Not me.
                               Just keep on
like I do and pay no attention. You’ll   
find that people always will complain   
about the atmosphere, either too hot   
or too cold too bright or too dark, days   
too short or too long.
                                  If you don’t appear
at all one day they think you’re lazy   
or dead. Just keep right on, I like it.

And don’t worry about your lineage
poetic or natural. The Sun shines on
the jungle, you know, on the tundra
the sea, the ghetto. Wherever you were
I knew it and saw you moving. I was waiting   
for you to get to work.

                                    And now that you
are making your own days, so to speak,
even if no one reads you but me
you won’t be depressed. Not
everyone can look up, even at me. It
hurts their eyes.”
                            “Oh Sun, I’m so grateful to you!”

“Thanks and remember I’m watching. It’s   
easier for me to speak to you out
here. I don’t have to slide down
between buildings to get your ear.
I know you love Manhattan, but
you ought to look up more often.
always embrace things, people earth   
sky stars, as I do, freely and with
the appropriate sense of space. That
is your inclination, known in the heavens   
and you should follow it to hell, if   
necessary, which I doubt.
                                       Maybe we’ll
speak again in Africa, of which I too
am specially fond. Go back to sleep now   
Frank, and I may leave a tiny poem   
in that brain of yours as my farewell.”

“Sun, don’t go!” I was awake
at last. “No, go I must, they’re calling   
       “Who are they?”
                               Rising he said “Some
day you’ll know. They’re calling to you   
too.” Darkly he rose, and then I slept.


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