Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Monday, March 27, 2017

Unfinished Reading

Books you don't finish reading
are like mountains you don't
finish climbing or comparisons
like this that don't seem quite right.

They are like acquaintances who
don't become friends. (This seems
better.) You have been told or
think you see what's up ahead,
but a weariness sets in. Let

the book be great for others,
you think.  Just leave me out of it. 
I've resigned from the reading of
The Fairie Queen, Clarissa, The
Castle of Crossed Destinies, 
The Charterhouse at Parma, 
countless portly mystery novels.
I pretended to finish Paradise
Lost but, as with the film,
The Titanic, I had guessed the ending.

I forced myself to climb Mann's
Magic Mountain. It took
decades, and it wasn't worth it.

When Sam Johnson (who
said of Paradise Lost, "No one
wished it longer") got tired
of a book, he threw it across
the room. Bolder than I,
he didn't resign from reading.
He fired the book.


hans ostrom 2017

Transformation: Military; or, As You Were

The Colonel said to the Corporal,
"As you were." The corporal
obeyed and turned back into
a mountain goat from Western
North America. In his mind,

the colonel saw the youthful
goat gamboling down and up
jagged bluffs.  "I shall miss him,"
said the colonel to himself--
"such a nimble fellow, and
that odd laugh!"



hans ostrom 2017

Locked Up

Having been convicted
by light, I was sentenced
to prism. A three-year
stretch in spectral stir,
just trying to survive
in fractured colors
and rainbowed lock-up.
It made me a cold,
hard, hallucinatory man.
Prism changes you.



hans ostrom 2017

Our Task

Working in heat
mean enough
to make grass snarl
and boulders ring,
I sometimes
imagined I could not
go on. Ridiculous:

I was as far from
the tortuous labor
slaves endured
for centuries as
I was from Neptune.

Their agony is
immured, is of
the bricks forming
the foundation
of this White Supremacist
monolith now adorned
at the top by
a bloated, cadaverous
cad, multiply evil.

Our task is
to wear down
White Supremacy
and wash away
the dust and grit
the project leaves,
please.



hans ostrom 2017

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Kiruna: New Year's Eve

(December 1980)

At noon there was a murky soup of light,
which darkness drank.

Iron miners cruise in large
awkward old American cars
on Kiruna's frozen streets.
The custom is for each drunk
passenger to pay a driver
to be not drunk.

Samis sell bone-handled knives
and jewelry the color of
salmon eggs.

At the New Year's party, my Swedish
cousin and I watch shadows and smudges
of the original King Kong play
on a Finnish TV station. My cousin
is blonder than Fay Wray.

Fireworks outside seem stupid because
we didn't have to wait for darkness.
At 11:00 p.m. my cousin reports
that she always cries at the stroke
of the New Year. I'm prepared,
like a Swede, when tears travel
from her eyes like small droplets
of Sami pewter.  I'm impressed

when one tear lands in her
glass of Norwegian champagne.



1981/2017 Hans Ostrom

Return to Uncleton

Return to Uncleton


His uncle had named the town Uncleton,
served as mayor for fifty years.

Except to tidy up the dog’s grave,
he goes back only for the annual

Rust Festival. He owns snapshots
of the Rust Queens and their Oxidized Courts

from the last twenty years. The lake looks
different from before and smells.

His trousers slip off his buttocks,
and teenagers laugh, their goddamned

music thumping out of cars. He’s inherited
just a pinch of his uncle’s rage

but no property. The sun off the lake
makes him scowl. Where exactly is

the dog’s grave? He remembers how,
just a pup, the little bastard nipped him.

Uncleton, O Uncleton, I hate the way you
draw me back like english on a cue ball.



Copyright 2007/2017

The Semicolon in Modern Thought

The Semicolon in Modern Thought

Scholars disagree; they are disagreeable.
According to Jeb Nolocimis, Distinguished
Three-Legged Chair in Social Podiatry at
Bandsaw University, a hallucinating German
printer presided over the marriage of Period
and Comma in his shop, located in
Mainz-am-Rhein, circa 1498. However,
Dr. Lola Doirep of the Toots Institute
rejects Nolocimis's account as "surreal
historicism." She argues periodically
that the semicolon should be interpreted
semiotically first as inhabiting a liminal
zone vexed by indecision (stop or continue?)
and second as the right and left eyes
of an iconic emoticon, which more deeply
represents "winking post-modernity"
and "the rise of Cyber-cute." Meanwhile,
Argentinian-American poet Rexi Vivaldo,
in his long poem, "Stubby's Quest,"
alludes to the semicolon as "a sad
period's single tear, frozen in time
and space--a lament
for the mortality of clauses . . . ;"





Copyright 2008/2017 Hans Ostrom

Sunday, March 19, 2017

And the Feelings Thus Conjured

She's dipping her hands in the paint
that neuron networks manufacture.
She's rising from sleep and adorning
the darkness with bright looping
smears her fingertips eject.

The fog shows up, a loose collection
of gray blobs held inside a pale
amorphous balloon. There is a sound
of grinding, a sound of grinding,
a grinding, a sound. She says to no one,

"Sing with me: 'I am stuck on 
the balcony of REM sleep . . .!'"
We don't have to call it anything, you
know. We can just experience it
and the feelings thus conjured,

and live an entire lifetime
there in a mind-sponsored moment.


hans ostrom 2017

The Bees Are Baking

Bees inside my head wear gold aprons
because they're baking tiny tan cookies.
Of course they buzz.  It's how they talk.
They're speaking of their relationship
to time, of how they've been bees
again and again through the ages.

I ask them a question.  Horrified,
they vanish, leaving only the pollen
of their buzzing.  Oh, well.  Their
little bee kitchen smells warm.
I put all of their cookies, which taste
of you-guessed-it, on my tongue at
once because I'm suddenly quite hungry.


hans ostrom 2017

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Ladder People

Inside birch cones
live ladder people.

They build tiny
fires and carry

hand-made ladders
to cliffs, perching

there for nights
and days, singing

to each other,
letting blue moths

alight on their hands.
These people of

the birch cones
decorate their ladders

and themselves with
paint and bits of string.

Comes a light rain.
The ladder people descend.

Comes a stiff breeze,
and birch limbs toss.

Comes regret, comes
to us, and with it

arrives a deep wish to
hear the ladder people sing.



hans ostrom 2017

Underwater History

for Don Parkerson

They're there, our oceanic blunders.
Monitor and Merrimack. Spanish galleons.
And our depravities: slave ships.

Submarines like the Thrusher
could not cope with fathoms.

Weed and coral enhance remaining
shapes. A crucifix grows ocean hair.
A doubloon swells into a rock,
and a captain's iced skull lectures to
a school of fish. Diving down,

the historian cannot afford to haul
a text. Theories don't hold oxygen. He
monitors (and merrimacks) his every
breath like a meditating monk.

What comes clear in obscure depths
is the sluggishness of history,
the persistence with which events
get devoured: how a ship only gradually
slips off the reef to ultimate depths;
how accoutrements of empire
dissolve like common soda.

Floating there, the burden of breath
on his back in steel tanks, the historian
sees small sharks swim through
portholes of a destroyer.  The broadsides
of history went unheard here. Ocean,
imbued with oblivion's appetite,
accepted all defeated ships,
all wars and atrocities, settled or not.


hans ostrom 2017

The Revision

It's the end of the semester. The last essay is due
to me, professor. He, student, misses the final class
and struggles to my office afterwards. He stands
in the doorway, exhausted, and tells me his dream:

"Somehow you'd gotten hold of my essay
before I wanted to turn it in. You assigned
it a grade of the square-root of A. Your
only comment was Very suburban. Then I
stole back the essay before you had
recorded the grade.  I put an A in
the online grading system, next to my name,
and then I watched as the essay
revised itself, prose metamorphosis."

"I'll be darned," I say.  He gives me
the essay.  I look at it.  "Well," I say,
"you'd better put your name on it"



hans ostrom 2017

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Dilapidated

The syllables of this word seem
about to come undone.  Anyway,
dilapidated is best if you don't
have to live in it.  Sauntering
around the Sierra Nevada,
I liked seeing shacks that
had stopped lying to themselves.
They spoke highly of the failed,
exhausted miners who'd lived
in them. Weirder were

the cars that people had driven
or pushed into the manzanita brush.
Rust munches them even now.
Yes, and the quiet old imbibers
sitting at the Buckhorn bar,
weary feet in weary shoes
touching brass. These old folks
sipped from a shot glass; and waited.
And today I feel dilapidated.



hans ostrom 2017

Time to Retire Whiteness


“Whiteness–the whole constellation of practices, beliefs, attitudes, emotions that are mixed up in being white–is the problem. Whiteness is degraded and depraved[…] To the degree that we accept any of the meaning that the dominant society gives to whiteness, we white people are degraded and depraved.” 
― Robert JensenThe Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism, and White Privilege





Way, way past time. Whiteness is a ghost
invented by fake science and a priori supremacist
hubris. Famous skeptic David Hume should have been
skeptical about his racism. Wasn't.  Joseph
Blumenach invented "Caucasian" out of nothing.
It is nothing.  We're all one species, obviously.
No races, but (don't take the bait) that doesn't mean we stop
confronting racism or that we aspire to "color
blindness."  If you want to get down with your
ancestry.com ethnicities, cool.  Just set that
white shell aside, if you're wearing one.
Because it's probably  made you do and think
some crazy shit. Mainly it's about people
and cultures,  growing up, recovering from historical
madness, and doing the right things.




hans ostrom 2017

recommended: Nell Irvin Painter, The History of White People (2010)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

James Baldwin's Wisdom

Further insight, from decades past, into why and how we ended up with an insane White Supremacist as president:

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Song: Solomon Fry

Solomon Fry never asked why.
He just did what he did
and said what he said.
Solomon Fry.

Solomon Fry sometimes got high.
It deepened his thoughts
about lots and lots.
Oh, Solomon Fry.

Sadly he died,
Solomon Fry,
though he lived
to be very old. 

Goodbye, goodbye,
Solomon Fry.
He died in his sleep,
we were told.

Solomon Fry never asked why.
We asked it instead.
Why is he dead?
Oh, Why did you die,
Solomon Fry?



hans ostrom 2017
(a completely fictional character, as you might have guessed)

It's Not Like the End of the World is the End of the World or Anything

Just before he went to sleep,
the world ended.  Well, began
to end: it's quite a process, after all
(and After All). He stayed awake
that night, finally slept a couple hours
as the sun rose  The wailing and yelling
coming from other abodes woke him.
He wondered if he was expected at work--
and what was in the cupboard
that might comprise supper?
It was just as he expected: even
when the world ends,
a person must plod on.


hans ostrom 2017

Considering Ear Wax

She found it necessary, apparently,
to turn away from scenes of "her"
nation's malevolent stupidity
and to consider ear wax,
which absorbs airborne particular
debris and expels it.  How,
she wondered, do the ears
know when to drive the soil-heavy
wax out of the twin tubular garages?
And could the process be applied
to the removal of a depraved president?


hans ostrom 2017