The Day Lady Died

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday

three days after Bastille day, yes

it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine

because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton

at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner

and I don’t know the people who will feed me

 

I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun

and have a hamburger and a malted and buy

an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets

in Ghana are doing these days

I go on to the bank

and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)

doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life

and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine

for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do

think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or

Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres

of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine

after practically going to sleep with quandariness

 

and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE

Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and

then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue

and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and

casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton

of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it

 

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of

leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT

while she whispered a song along the keyboard

to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing

 

The first thing that struck me about the poem is the lack of punctuation.  The poem is one long, run on sentence with one comma in the first stanza.  It’s interesting that the poem itself never ends but is written about/on the day when Lady died.

Literally it’s a recollection of the events he went through on the day that Lady died.  But who is Lady?  A woman?  Perhaps that’s her nickname.  I’m assuming he’s not talking about Lady from Lady in the Tramp.  His poetry is unconventional… perhaps I shouldn’t rule that out quite yet.

 An oddity I found in the poem, first of all, was the lack of punctuation.  I also didn’t see a reference to this Lady once in the poem.  It looms over the poem but never appears in it, perhaps like a ghost?  She follows him through the day, always there but never actually present.  Interesting.

The lack of punctuation really strikes me.  Forgive me for harping on it.  But I think I understand why he did it.  Well, some of it.  Not quite all.  The fact that there’s never a period makes the sentences and the poem never ending.  A period marks the end but there isn’t one.   The poem never dies.  It juxtaposes the title, The Day Lady Died, but it goes along with a theme of the poem.  Lady died, but follows him through the day.  She’s always looming over him and following him like a ghosts.

Ghosts are eternal, this poem is eternal.  Not even using words, O’Hara conveys a powerful message about death.  A person may die, but their spirit can live on.  Perhaps not a literal spirit, but their memory remains and the fact that they were once alive will not change.  Author Kurt Vonnegut Jr. said in one of his novels:

“When a person dies, he only appears to die.  He is still very much alive in the past…  All moments, past present, and future, always have existed, always will exist.”

 

Basically, O’Hara is helping people cope with the loss of a loved one.  His day still goes on though Lady is gone.  She may have died, but she is always with him.  She’s always a presence in his life.  And that’s something very comforting to think about after the passing of a loved one.

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54 – Walt Whitman

The past and present wilt–I have fill’d them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.
Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.

Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

I know I’ve heard of Walt Whitman before.  I just can’t think of where.  Hm…

What drew me to this poem was the way it looks.  He says something and then has something in parenthesis.  For anyone who’s read and enjoyed John Gardner’s Grendel, this would be something you’d notice as well.

I think he’s writing this poem in the in light of some event  that caused him to think about death.  Perhaps an accident or ailment that caused him to question whether or not he would survive.  It’s interesting that the past and present is wilting since he has been filled.  I would think that if you fill something it’d be happy instead of dying.  The listener up there he speaks to I’m assuming is God, but he has no intent of dying yet because he is only speaking in passing (“I can only stay a minute longer”).  After he realizes he will live roadrunr.jpg he looks to those around him and analyzes their rush.  They’re in such a hurry to get finished with their chores and get to supper and get on with their lives, when will they pay attention to him?  When will they walk and speak with him?  Will they have the opportunity to slow down and pay attention to him before he’s gone?

Whitman is telling us that we need to take time to appreciate those around us.  We’re not sure how long they’ll be here.