Frank O’Hara’s Last Night

Ken Ruzicka states that people would say rude things like, “You were the one who killed Frank O’Hara.” “It wasn’t like I was speeding, drinking, or doing anything illegal. “All of a sudden, there’s a tragedy.”

On a November morning in Fire Island Pines to the 79-year-old artist and landscape designer Ken Ruzicka sits at a large wooden table at his home. He tells me how he got the table. The space heaters keep the cottage warm and Ruzicka’s own artwork keeps it cool. I feel a touch of summer mold as Ruzicka tells me that the table is from David Ebner, a well-known furniture designer who gave him a garden for his friend many years back.

Frank O'Hara's Last Night

Ruzicka is an excellent storyteller. But he also knows why I am here. He is best known as the driver who hit Frank O’Hara on July 24, 1966, near Crown Walk by The Pines. O’Hara was then more well-known as an art curator at The Museum of Modern Art. However, he also published poetry and wouldn’t receive full recognition as a poet until 1971’s posthumous publication of The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara. He was one of the most influential leaders in the New York School for poetry. His pocket-sized Lunch Poems were written during lunch breaks at MoMA. It is still a staple in today’s cultural fabric almost 60 years later. O’Hara’s influence can also be seen in popular shows like Mad Men where Don Draper (Jon Hamm), reads Meditations in an Emergency from the series’ second finale. Also, Coca-Cola’s recent “Share a Coke” campaign pays homage O’Hara’s charming poem “Having a Coke with You.”

He says, “People would be rude to say, ‘You were responsible for the death of Frank O’Hara’.” “It wasn’t like I was speeding, drinking, or doing anything illegal. “All of a sudden, there’s a tragedy.”