Monday, September 18, 2017

The Ballad of Mr. Who

A certain Mr. Who ordered
his where whated--why,
he wouldn't say.

He hired reliable whaters
trained in necessary hows,
which earned them pay.

When all the hows were done,
sad Mr. Who wished he'd kept
the whaters at bay.

Indeed he missed his otherwhere,
which his impatience had reduced
to dust of clay.

Old Who brooded about what-now.
He grew consumed with whys that led
his mind astray.

It will straggle back sometime,
somehow. Meanwhile now, Mr. Who,
her tries to pray.

hans ostrom 2017

A Quality of Cold in September

Cold no longer subtle,
as the shifts started in September
as we finished framing a house.
Hurry, get the roof on.

Cold now in September
as I clear the garden beds,
knocking loose a few last
golden potatoes and carrots
with sunburned indigo shoulders.

It's an insistent chill.  An overture
to a Winter suite. An advance-team
working for an immanent season
that bides its clime in gravitational
patterns.  A shirt under

a flannel work-shirt--then and now--
soaks up sweat & cold startles
the skin when wind rouses itself.
This is a ritual annoyance
that flavors wistful weariness
when I pick up a rake or a shovel.

hans ostrom 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

Concerning Me and a Concept Called You

Like you I was in space today,
moving around on what some call
Earth.  The Chinese in Mandarin
call it tu, with a diacritic mark
over the u, a parenthesis lying
on its back, looking up at the sky.

Evolution means the weather
can seem calibrated perfectly
to me (and you) and me (and you)
to the weather.  A peace treaty
signed by molecules. Can be
revoked at any time.

After work, I returned
the circumstance by which
regardless of how much humans
learn, certain fundamental
mysteries will not yield,
such as what's the all about?--
this moving around on a
matter-ball that spins and tilts
and orbits and has an indigestive core
of molten stuff.

hans ostrom 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

"The Brain is Wider Than the Sky," by Emily Dickinson

The Mother of All Poems

When I think about writing the mother
of all poems that is to say a big serious
poem about my mother, I think about
the poem I wrote, in Karl Shapiro's class,
about how a piano contains all notes,
all potential melodies, etc., in some kind
of ideal way. And after I read it, Shapiro
said to the class, "D.H. Lawrence wrote
a poem about a piano, but it was really
about his mother; he was in love with
her." I found the comment unhelpful,

plus suggestive of incest. Oh, well:
workshops. I also think of my mother
and her low tolerance for nonsense,
such as puppets and murderers.  She
sat on the jury that convicted serial
killer Larry Lord Motherwell (ahem),
which was the name he, Frank
Eugene Caventer, gave himself,
a nom de meurtrier.

Ma wanted to make sure Motherwell
got the gas chamber, and she never forgave
the one juror who prevented that.
Anyway, I really don't feel like writing
an ambitious poem about my mother.
It seems like too much work for too
little gain, and I don't know--
Freud, Shapiro, and millions of
other people have kind of ruined
the subject for me.  My mother liked
to drink Hamm's beer out of the can.

hans ostrom 2017

Crop-Burning, Kansas

Dusk, and we're moving on I-35
through Kansas.  West of us, green
land dissolves into dissolving
available light. Sky flares

at the horizon. East of us,
flames razor yellow patterns
on black, burning undulating
land. In the car talking,

we weave a makeshift fabric
of family lore, wounds and
resentments, hilarities. One
of us glances ahead through

the windshield: rear lights
of cars burn hot and red
like lit cigarette tips.
Green land fades altogether.

Red sky goes pink, goes gray.

Night will arrive before Wichita
does. We're not anywhere very long.

hans ostrom 2017

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

It's 1954 and Emmett Kelly remembers

the Hartford, Connecticut, circus fire,
1944: the big tent went up,

and people panicked like animals,
but the big cats got strangely calm.

The famous clown rushed from
the small dressing-tent in makeup,

managed more authority than a cop
because a clown's not supposed

to speak, so when he spoke,
the wild eyed customers listened.

They let him save their lives
with a frown.  Back in his tent,

he said to Willie in the mirror,
"No show tonight. No show

in Clown Alley."  Other clowns
entered, hysterical, said who'd lived,

who hadn't. (168 hadn't.)
"You were wonderful," they told Emmett,

who had removed half of Willie's face.
As Kelly he shrugged. "I did what I could."

Now in 1954, Madison Square Garden,
Emmett's put on half of Willie's face.

He feels weary.  He tells an interviewer,
"Clowning is nothing you can study for."

hans ostrom 2017

Transformation: Dementia

He remembers language
but not his memory. He speaks
of what he sees. He scratches
his knees. A straggling memory
wanders by, covered with soot
from a burnt whole life.

To this memory he says hello.
Does not recall why he said
hello. Does not recall that
he said hello. He doesn't
remember scratching his knees.
He speaks. He sees. He listens
to speaking he speaks. It does
not interest him. This does:
An aroma. Of . . .?

He falls asleep in front of
what he sees. Outside of his sleep,
we speak of what we remember
of his memory using some of
the language he used to recall.

hans ostrom 2017