The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Tuesday

Christmas Card To Grace Hartigan
By Frank O'Hara

There's no holly, but there is
the glass and granite towers
and the white stone lions
and the pale violet clouds. And
the great tree of balls in
Rockefeller Plaza is public.

Christmas is green and general
like all great works of the
imagination, swelling from minute
private sentiments in the desert,
a wreath around our intimacy
like children's voices in a park.

For red there is our blood
which, like your smile, must be
protected from spilling into
generality by secret meanings,
the lipstick of life hidden
in a handbag against violations.

Christmas is the time of cold air
and loud parties and big expense,
but in our hearts flames flicker
answeringly, as on old-fashioned
trees. I would rather the house
burn down than our flames go out.


"The poet Frank O'Hara (1926-1966) loved New York, and he crowded its speed, insouciance and exhilarating readiness for more of everything into his poetry," wrote Robert Pinsky in Sunday's Poet's Choice in The Washington Post Book World. "He deployed spontaneity of language to lead readers away from the ponderous excesses of close reading and exquisitely ponderous interpretation. His art offers the pleasure of listening as primary. O'Hara's Christmas poem is as secular as can be -- personal, artfully irreverent and saucy. The poem is also a sincere celebration of the holiday and his city. It is a passionate, good-humored embrace and a love song to Manhattan...the one-syllable adjectives in the last stanza -- 'cold' and 'loud' and 'big' -- generate an offhand, contagious exuberance. It is as if the poet has had enough of his earlier meditation on the general and the private, or generality and intimacy, a few stanzas earlier. Like the traditional green and red, those abstractions are a challenge for the spirit of improvisation and discovery, sporting here with the traditional adjective for the holiday: O'Hara's tone is merry."

It rained nearly all day Christmas Day, so I suppose we would have had a white Christmas had the temperature dropped 25 degrees. The only thing the kids wanted to do was go climbing on the rocks again in Gettysburg, which, had it been a nice day, would have been the perfect activity for a day when nearly everything else is closed except movie theaters which weren't great options because of the timing when there was so much cooking, cleaning and setting up to be done. We did drive to the battlefield in the late morning, only to have the skies open up just when we arrived...we walked around a bit under umbrellas and the kids climbed a bit but the caves were already flooded and they ended up getting too little exercise.

My parents came up in the afternoon, but younger son was off the wall because older son was getting attention by reading aloud from one of those books about things high school students write on history essays ("The residents of Stalingrad fought hard to protect it because the city was named after Lenin," "Socrates was killed by hemmorhoids," etc.) and everyone was briefly paying attention to him; he went around making penguin noises until dinner -- I think he was also starving -- and did not calm down until after my parents left, at which point those of us still here played Happy Feet Uno (which he won) and the Dragonology game (which I won, thus freeing me from future gaming obligations as I was banished). We don't really do Christmas presents, being Jewish, but in-laws gave us chocolate covered pretzels and my mother gave me a "Sleeps With Cats" nightshirt.

Little Round Top from Devil's Den at Gettysburg National Battlefield -- the site of one of the most famous photos from the Civil War, Alexander Gardner's 1863 image of a dead Confederate sharpshooter behind these stones. (The photo was actually set up somewhat: that is not a sharpshooter's rifle in the photo, but was placed there to add to the dramatic impact of the image of the dead man, who had lain several feet from the stones for at least a day when he was discovered after the battle.)

Here's another view from higher up among the boulders of Devil's Den on the afternoon before Christmas Eve.

Devil's Den and the Slaughter Pen are covered by these glacial boulders that form little caves beneath them. There were many climbers scrambling in and over the rocks. The park is undergoing a renovation, chopping down trees that have grown since the war in spots that had been cleared during the war, and I am rather nervous that they are going to declare the stones and hillsides and all non-marked trails off-limits to visitors.

Here is a photo taken in Devil's Den on Christmas Day in the rain, less than 24 hours after the glorious blue skies of the previous photos. The soldier appears to have been carved right into one of the boulders.

The same monument from a different angle with Little Round Top rising in the background. It's easy to see why the Union soldiers were able to kill so many exposed Confederates in the field and on the hillside.

This is another view of the Celtic cross of the Irish Brigade, in honor of many members of the 14th New York who fell at the Bloody Angle. The detail is much easier to see without direct sunlight shining through the trees behind it.

A monument of a soldier overlooking the fields near the farmhouse, color distorted because it was shot through a rainy windshield and I attempted to make up for the spottiness and glare.

Tuesday we are driving home, but since Gettysburg is between Hanover and the Maryland border, we may stop and try to hike around once more if the weather is at all cooperative! Hope everyone who was celebrating had a lovely Christmas!

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