Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Some Fable-Days

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Some Fable-Days

For ten minutes one afternoon, I became
an elephant. I walked heavily away from
where I work, wagging my heavy head.
Cackling minions threw pebbles at my
sad ass.  On another day, I became a cat:

Somebody was talking at me in front
of a group, apparently scoring clever points.
But I'd lost the topic, and word-like noises
from her mouth might as well have been
red jello for all the sense they made to me.
So I stared. I was Cat--there and not there,
dozing in the pride of my mind, not hungry
and therefore supremely disinterested.

I've spent many days as a badger, digging,
fretting, rooting around, growling to myself,
making a lovely mess of my underground
burrow, getting lots of badger-writing done.
Some fable-days, I tell you, are often
just what a human being needs--to stay human.


Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"The Want of You," by Angelina Weld Grimké

No God/Yes God

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No God/Yes God


No God. Physics is all. Yes
God. Yes fathom God. God
is no dice-player. Pascal will
take your wager. No God,
they say, they say atheism is
the good news, if so: yikes.
Despair, respond, no God.
Yes God, repair, despair, Oh
God? Flawed God, no God.
God fails the test, their test,
they say, no intervention into
bad. Yes God, who knows--
who knows? If no God, then
know No. If yes God, then
never the when, yes to an
infinite go, and faith in yes--
which is often a faith in I-do-
not now know, you know?

Copyright 2011

Future-Perfect Sighing

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Future-Perfect Sighing

Name it rain again.
Then sigh. Love your life
if you can. Pain, worry, fear,
and want make that hard to do
sometimes. Obviously.

Everywhere people are learning
the expression for "rain" in a
language or two different from
their native one. They are repeating
and repeating the expression like rain.
Sometimes these people are loving
their lives. Sometimes they will have sighed.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Monday, April 25, 2011

Concerning Mischief

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Concerning Mischief


Once my wife invited a friend over
to our place, which had a narrow back yard
full of tall laurels. She was showing
the friend the yard through the large
kitchen window. I was in the yard
with a baseball bat, looking at
a hornets' nest in one of the laurels.

The nest: that beautiful gray menacing
mache mansion.  I hit the nest with
the bat, I'm not sure why, and
the hornets poured out, a squadron
going after me.  They hammered
my neck and head.  Now a figure

in an animated cartoon, I ran toward
the house and, desperate, got in there.
The two women looked at me. I put
down the bat and panted. The women
didn't say anything. Hornets were hitting
the kitchen window.  Later, my wife
asked, "Why do you do such things?"


Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sympathy: A Rant

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Sympathy: A Rant

So there's this video out there of a dog
in Chile that gets hit by a car on a freeway
and is lying on the asphalt, traffic coming on, tons
of rolling steel, and another dog on the
other side of the freeway sees what's going
on, makes its way across traffic to the median,
gets over that, and with its teeth and paws,
pulls to safety the other dog, which survives.

So where we are now in this stupid muddy
pit of greed, the U.S., is that we can't even agree
to maintain social serves that are so basic--
are forms of prudent, active sympathy--
that at least one dog in South America can
instinctively master the concept and act accordingly
better than we can.  Pooling resources so that

everyone's all right--fed, clothed, sheltered, doctored--
is not conservative, socialist, or liberal: it is really
so basic it is canine. A question is can the citizens
of the wealthiest large nation (and their so-called
representatives) be at least as smart,
sympathetic, and effective as a Chilean dog?
If the answer is yes, then get this American house
in order. If the answer is no, then the nation
is lying on a freeway, tons of steel onrushing.
So ends the sympathetic rant. Bowww-wowwww.

Copyright 2011

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Idea of Aging

The Idea of Aging

We're very young when
we first know what
getting old is to mean:
that moment in childhood
when we learn not by choice
the difference between
what we just do and what
we must do.


Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Bold Talk

Bold Talk



Bold talk is the best kind. It
may be why talk came to mind.
Once fitted with it, talk I mean,
we could just sit and make stuff
up, say dark is sun, sky is heaven,
lie like the skin of a chameleon--
a way to feel safer, blend in when
we seemed to ourselves to be
different from all other creatures.

Bold talk remains one of the main
features of fear, confusion, despair.
There is no end to these, and no end
to talking boldly, which represents
much but not boldness. Incrementally
grows the force of talk in all its
forms, the Earth now wrapped in
electrons saturated with our telling
and our selling: endless
effluvium of conversation.


Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

School of Poetry

School of Poetry

I was going to start a School of Poetry,
but I couldn't find a building to lease, nor
could I gather a group of destined geniuses.
A group? Not even one foreordainedly
acclaimed scribbler. So on I rode upon

a rickety nag of my own, notebooks piling
up somewhere like a slate-castle, my wee
career in poetry careening out where the
brush grows and the tourist throws an
empty bottle of beer.  I am I think

a member of a species the birders like
to call accidental. Thank God I never
started a School of Poetry. I would have
been tardy every day and distracted by
the cheerleaders for the football team,

on which I would have played free
safety, a roaming loner in search of
a concussion, scribbling dreams
between the yard-lines while ghosts
dissolved in Alka-Seltzer mists
beyond the stadium.


Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Experimental Poem

My sense is that if you write an experimental poem, you probably shouldn't title it, "Experimental Poem," unless of course, in spite of being figurative, you occasionally suffer bouts of literalism. Not that you asked, but I think every poem is an experiment in writing poetry; that doesn't mean every poem is experimental, however. Which is technically a contradiction, I think, except that in the previous sentence, "experiment" refers to a process of discovery and "experimental" refers to a mode, type, or sub-genre. There should probably be a question mark after the title.



Experimental Poem

By definition, an experiment
is a former periment. A periment
is whatever you want it to be. It
sounds to me to be a part of a building,
a small amphibian, or an herb. ("Let
me draw your attention to the
periment now, if I may.") By

infinition, you who may be whoever,
especially online, may/can try whatever
you like or don't like for whatever why.
["Hello? To whom am I speaking?"]

Sure, there are courses of deep grammar,
 ingrown conventions, and local customs
that will pull your perimentation toward
silted centers of common practice. Fact is,

["it just isn't done," an editor wrote to me
once, except I'd already done it] don't
let that pulley interrupt the fermentation (which,
yes, I know is rot), the chemical re-agenting

[this is too "out there," even for me, an agent
once wrote to me] underway as you pluck
drugged strings of a rubber violin on a baking
street, your sober alter-ego/oge-retla less

than [not equal to] enthused about your rumored
genius. ("I perceive you have been in Afghanistan.")
If there is a game afoot, look in the underbrush or
between mirrored pages of a glass anthology
["in the end, I did not fall in love with it"]
sitting on a table in your mind. There should
probably be a question mark after the title and
after every statement you make when you
pass the age of, say, 40.


Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Monday, April 11, 2011

"The Fall," by Russell Edson

"Beggar Woman," by Charles Reznikoff

In Vienna

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In Vienna

How the fuck did I get here? I asked myself.
Winter. Yes, yes: the opera, the history,
the goddamned magnificence. A big so what?
to all of that and more when you're thin

on money, low on rest, and loaded down
with many mistakes you made. Back "home,"
they'd elected Reagan president. That, children,
was a point of no return. Austria is

of great historical importance. Okay, fine,
but I'm hungry, I thought. So I went out,
and I went out, and I found myself a cafe,
which featured a kind of importance I

required--hot food and wine, buzz of
customers, glowing lights and cigarette
smoke, a blond woman with a wry
smile, and a sense of proportion.


Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Without Acknowledged Passions

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Without Acknowledged Passions


"He was wary of solitary men, people without acknowledged passions."  --Maigret and the Calame Report, by Georges Simenon, Chapter 3.


Like any advanced mammal, they calculate,
the ones with unacknowledged passions, but
their cruelty is cooler, reptilian. If they would
but name their passions, we'd all be safer.

The won't say what they really want, so
they try to exact things from us. Always
in a hurry, bustling with short strides,
keeping careful records, they don't
get much done. Always arguing, they
never convince. And always opining,

they make us crave facts. The ones
without acknowledged passions fail
by seeming to succeed--like an avalanche.
What is wrong with them can't be made
right. Don't try. Pass by.


Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Plato, Kant, Life

 This poem is no doubt hopeless incorrect, philosophically, but I had fun playing around with Plato, Kant, and couplets.



Plato, Kant, Life


There is no categorical
imperative or Platonic ideal.

These things do not exist.
They are that. Life is this.

More imaginative than Kant
is God, who does not want,

who makes perfect sense,
who knows the original whence.

Plato imagined he knew
what to make of this stew,

life. His notions were less than ideal.
This stew is terribly real,

not approximation, God knows.
Out of mystery, not forms, creation flows.

We and life are history,
Whereas God is  mystery.

God is neither categorical nor ideal.
God is rather formlessly real.

Copyright 2011

James Baldwin: the Price of the Ticket

Richard Wright - Black Boy

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Living With the Sound

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Living With the Sound


I've lived with the sound of what
are called fighter-jets all my life:
sonic-booms over the Sierra Nevada then,
air-scraping roar of weapon-laden planes
over Puget Sound now. It is

a sound denoting the American Empire.
That is a fair statement. Anyway, today
when the noise materializes, a cat
lifts its head instinctively, as if to try
to discern the sound through the ceiling.

I lift my head to look at the cat. The sound
has always been the sound of something
far above and beyond my control,
closer than the sky, farther
away than the moon.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

My Country 'Tis

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My Country 'Tis


My country 'tis of thee, perpetual
detainee, of thee I sing. Land of
monopoly, most
massive military, of thee I sing.

Slavery for centuries, you've
still not made it right. You dim
reconciliation's light--and
you won't sing.


Developing every mountainside,
let your ears ring. Land with
more prisoners than it ever used
to have, land always
off to war, perpetual fights
abroad, of thee who sings?

Not a republic now, more
guns than privacy,
more hate than equity, melt
freedom's ring. My country

'Tis not "mine."  Don't think
it ever was. I'm as powerless
as dryer-fuzz. "My" country
belongs to the powerful, oh yes,
and I can't sing. This country

'tis of thee, perpetual detainee,
"combatant enemy," of thee
who sings? There is a They
and We, surveilled ubuity,
you'd better talk--or else:
Yes, sing, sing, sing.

From every mountainside,
let indus-military glide--
pollutants: smear them wide--
of thee. Of thee. What can
I do about thee, "my" distant
country? Not much, not much,
I fear. I cannot sing.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

The Difference Between Poetry and Prose

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The Difference Between Poetry and Prose

What is the difference between poetry and prose?
is a question poetry never even thinks to ask at a party.
Poetry is too distracted looking at the curve of someone's
buttock, or tasting the word "vellum," which somebody
uttered a half-hour ago, or letting a whiff of vanilla cast
it into a pool of memory. Prose is the responsible sibling,

doing its duty to make something happen. Poetry assumes
everything's always happening already. It is
stoned, stunned, seduced, and stung by reality,
which just happens to be, according to poetry.


Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Friday, April 8, 2011

"Tropics in New York," by Claude McKay

Watch Out for Us

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Watch Out for Us

We're all around you, you know. There are
a lot of us--the ones who over-think things,
the ponderers. (Perhaps you're one of us:
what do you think?) We think of thinking

as vocation. Oh, yes, we're usually boring
or invisible or impertinent, in the best sense
of the latter word: think about it. If you ask
us what we think, however, we may defer

or deflect. We don't necessarily like sharing
what we think. That trait belongs to a different
sort. We just like thinking. At social events,
we might flash a smile, answer an arcane

question, or amuse briefly, but then we
always withdraw. Why? To get away
from noise and to think. What good are we?
Where does all this thinking get us, get you?

Ah, we think about those questions, too.
Oh, yes, you bet we do.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Nothing Less

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Nothing Less

On the brink of exhausting the Earth, it's
past time to re-think, don't you think?
The scandals of nuclear weapons,
starvation, species eradication. Chasms
between rich and poor . . . . Nothing less
than a revolution of spirit shall suffice.
The age seems to beg for moral transformation,
by which we agree to think ahead by centuries,
not quarter-years.  Short-term profits
shall be anathema. A certain selflessness
must obtain. We have to mine it within
ourselves. It's there. Refine it--that ore
known by an old-fashioned name, virtue.
Nothing less than a revolution of the spirit
shall suffice, I think, when I think twice.


Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Better Than Television

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Better Than Television

This week I encountered several people who talk
constantly out loud to themselves in public. Out
very loud. It's interesting how they are at once
accepted and normatively abnormal: I experience
curiosity and wariness. Also of interest is that
I don't listen carefully to them. If I did, I'd have
to follow them because they're almost always
on the move, and it would be rude to follow them.
But it's a missed opportunity, not listening, I suspect.
Maybe it's gibberish, maybe it's not: I don't know.
But it has to be better than television. At least.


Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Monday, April 4, 2011

Final Engagement

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Final Engagement

The man told me twelve-hundred American
veterans of World War II die each month now.
The Macs and Johnnys, Jimmies and Franks,
farm-boys, city-boys; Black soldiers
once concentrated in separate divisions; men
who enlisted at Manzanar or Tule Lake; women
called WAVES whose names were Kay or
Gladys, Mildred, Lucille, Gloria, or Dolores;
conscientious objectors, veterans of another kind
of war; men with lifelong jitters, and worse, after
the war.  It's the final engagement, in which 1200
perish per month, maybe more, their photos
ghostlike on local obit websites. It's the final
assault on the jitterbug and cherry blossoms,
high-balls, unfiltered Camels, the sound of Murrow's voice,
the Lindy Hop, silk nylons, hair oil, propellers,
and a deep reticence to talk with anyone about what
happened over there, over here.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Friday, April 1, 2011

My White Body

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My White Body

My white body has brought me ease
in this USA society that's marked black
and brown bodies, that marks them still.

My body white and masculine has functioned
as a passport, yes it has. Has often let me
be as invisible or as noticed as I prefer.

Has allowed me to prefer. I hear the voices
of contrarians: Have my white body and I
been excluded, ignored, worked hard, and


maybe even hated?  Oh, sure. But not so
as to make my white body's experience
and me equivalent to that of those marked

by this USA society. I've been reading
The Slave Ship: A Human History by
Marcus Rediker, 2008. You know, you

think you know, but you don't know--
that is why history is written, read.
Admit it. Admit you have a white body

according to the culture's rules, I told
myself. And let's not whitewash the issue.
This isn't Tom Sawyer's fence.

What's an admission worth? Not much.
It's a move, a mental shift. What must ensue
after the admission must be more productive

than just the admission. Otherwise the move
becomes just more hoo-hah from a mind inside
a white body. My white body has brought me ease.


Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

My Father Does Disapprobation

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My Father Does Disapprobation


Jesus Christ Almighty! my father used to say,
not speaking to, of, or for Jesus but to one or more
of his three sons, who had done something maybe
not even wrong but just imperfectly. He could be
thunderous in his disapprobation, which is a word
I never heard him say.  He was the Jehovah

of our family--and an atheist: no competition.
Jesus Christ Almighty HIT the sonofabitch!!
he'd shout--concerning a sledge-hammer,
wielded by one of us, at a wooden stake.

A mere stake being driven into the mere ground!
Disproportionate furor! Magnificent, in its own
way, and in its own way Judeo-Christian: Old School.


Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom