Bench Before the Sculpture Garden, MOMA, 1965

Museum of Modern Art, New York City

Cynthia Gallaher

We weaved an impromptu walking tour 

through mid-Manhattan all day, 

and ended up inside MOMA 

(on a bench overlooking the sculpture garden), 

but faced the other way. 

We could barely move anymore, 

almost like the sculptures themselves,  

so tired, mom and dad and my 12-year-old self,  

on this concrete bench, nearly mired. 

Waiting a half hour, give or take 

to people watch and rest, 

regain our strength to forge the galleries,  

a vacation endurance test. 

And soon an exhibit of another kind 

unfolded before our eyes, 

a thin and lively curator 

and a bunch of burly guys,


Rolling in crated art on dollies, 

the laughing svelte man directing where they’d go, 

workers humored by his verve, 

his enthusiasm kept the flow. 

I knew nothing of poetry then, 

and little of art, could this spectacle  

to our captive audience have ushered in 

what first gave me my spark? 

“Oh, that man is far too much,” 

I heard my mother say, 

“Over the top in how he acts 

that way.” 

I knew little of sex, and nothing 

on what it meant to be gay, 

that man with the wide forehead and broken nose, 

to me, seemed to seize the day.

So massive the working men and art, 

but it was he who filled the corridor, 

his voice echoing from dock to elevator, 

a spontaneous orator. 

Our one free day in town, 

all others at the New York World’s Fair, 

it was here I saw and heard him the year before he died, 

this changer of language, Frank O’Hara. 

[Now I am quietly waiting for 

the catastrophe of my personality 

to seem beautiful again, 

and interesting, and modern

from “Meditations in an Emergency,” F.O.]

Cynthia Gallaher, a Chicago-based poet, is author of four poetry collections, including Epicurean Ecstasy: More Poems About Food, Drink, Herbs and Spices, and three chapbooks, including Drenched. Her award-winning nonfiction/memoir/creativity guide is Frugal Poets’ Guide to Life: How to Live a Poetic Life, Even If You Aren’t a Poet. One of her poems will be sent on NASA’s flight to the south pole of the moon later this decade.