"Having a Coke with You" is awesome because we're in love with you. Yep, that about sums things up. This poem is not just an expression of love, though. It's actually much more thoughtful than that. It's a meditation on just what it means to be in love. How does being in love affect the way we see the world? How might it change our understanding of and thoughts about art? Those are big questions, but O'Hara is up to the task… right after he takes a sip of that ice cold soda.
The poem shows us that love that is not appreciated is love that is wasted. (Sad.)
This is not a love poem. This is a poem about being in love. There's a big difference.
Our speaker in "Having a Coke with You" is a looker. And we don't mean he's deserving of a wolf whistle. We mean that he looks at stuff—at the you of the poem, at sculptures, at portraits, at tulips, at birches. As a big fan of visual art, this speaker seems to understand the word primarily by the way it looks to him. That might explain why we get such a short, dramatic line like "I look" (13). It's more than a line, it's a declaration of what this speaker is all about. In light of it, it's easy to see (see what we did there?) why this poem is so overwhelmingly visual. Even his love for the you of the poem seems to hinge on appearances. Is that a good thing, do you think?
Appearance is subjective. In other words, the way things look depend entirely on your state of mind. (Happiness = fluorescent flowers.)
Art can never truly come near the simple experience of living life. (Nice try, though, art.)
The speaker of "Having a Coke with You," is a recovering art buff. With casual references to "The Polish Rider," Futurism, Marino Marini, and more, we get the clear sense that this is someone who knows their stuff. We say "recovering," though, because, even though he knows his stuff, he doesn't think too much of it anymore. He's got love in his life now, and its wonders have shown him, in no uncertain terms, the futility of art. The speaker's leaving the world of art behind in favor of the wonderful lands of love.
Even though it's just a representation, real art is every bit as capable of moving someone as a real, live person is. So there.
The speaker is not really done with art, entirely. He's just temporarily distracted by his love, and will some day return to his admiration of art. (He's just on a break, you see.)
The lights get dimmer. The floor begins to tilt. The colors all swirl together and your feet seem to come loose from the earth. Did someone finally poison the sloppy joe mix at the school cafeteria? Did you all of a sudden forget how to breathe? No, silly. Just like the speaker in "Having a Coke with You," you're in love. As a result, your entire version of reality has shifted, right down to the physical level. Go to bed fine one night, but then wake up in love, and the world seems a totally different place.
As both art and being in love show, reality is a totally fluid and changeable thing. Especially for our speaker.
Love is not superior to art, in the speaker's mind. Instead, it's a replacement for art. His interest in both of them has more to do with escaping his reality than anything else.