Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Planet Is Hooked

The fish are getting high
on our pharmaceuticals. Perch
take anti-anxiety meds
prescribed by our sewage
and runoff & they swim
like hell. We like to share.
Gulls smoke our clouds of
junk, bears chew through plastic,
and clams can't find the calcium
anymore because of our acid trips.
The planet's on our street now.
We'll sell it anything.



hans ostrom 2013

Friday, April 26, 2013

Old Man, I'm Talking to You

Old man, I'm talking to you. I am you.
I didn't used to be. I used to fly past
on a train. You'd be sitting on a bench
at the station--gray eyes, gray sweater,
a blur of inert age. And I? Well, I

was all tendon-taught, unfraught, lithe,
and smug with youth. Uncouth. I was
on my way to . . . to here, as
it happened. And it's happened.

I'm situated at the station now, too,
talking to you, old man. Here
comes a train.


hans ostrom, 2013

Official American Poetry

Official American Poetry is a corporation like
any other. It has executive officers, middle-
managers, salespeople, controllers, and share-
holders. It operates major retail outlets

such as anthologies, presses, workshops,
and MFA programs. There are Academies
and Institutes, with canons on the parapets
and reviewers pouring hot grease on the mob.

Official American Poetry (OAP) frequently
says, "We are unamused by most american
poetry." When OAP notes an Interesting
Development, then OAP buys it up to

maintain market control. It bought up
Dickinson and Whitman, Plath and Sexton,
the Beats and LANGUAGE. There is insider-
trading, lobbying, and influence-peddling.

There's the awkward American imitation
of royalty (Pound crowning Eliot). OAP
is a tower of glass and steel. If you want
to try to try to trade independence for

recognition, go for it. Good luck.
Otherwise, just keep walking. And
writing. That's what Walt and Emily would do.
Bukowski and Bob Kaufman, too,

and this is not to mention,
and this is not to mention
all the poets alive, above and
under ground both at once.


hans ostrom 2013




Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What She Realized

She realized one day
that what she had produced
in her field was as good
and often better than
what the famous in her field
had produced. She knew
she'd never be famous.
She understood the machinery
that established hierarchy.
She knew that proclaiming
her work was as good and often
better was a losing ploy,
and she knew that complaining
was the sucker's payoff.
So she chose satisfaction.
According to hard criteria,
what she had done was good
and even excellent. Let it
be that, she thought,
and let the rest go.



hans ostrom, 2013

Bond of Union

(after M.C. Escher's Lithograph, "Bond of Union," 1956)


We first met in a vat of soup,
you and I. The bubbles entranced.
Then they turned into spongy spheres,
and the soup evaporated entirely.

More adventure: our insides--
brains and guts, bones and such--
departed. We became mere ribbons
of being, me with my sad goatee,

you with your lovely mouth
and luxuriant hair. We discovered
but one ribbon became us. So we
move cautiously now and try

not to attribute blame.


hans ostrom, 2013

From Inside a Renoir Painting

I am speaking to you from one
of Renoir's paintings. My voice
shatters softly like light.
I'm perspiring terribly
beneath these tight clothes,
these goddamned buttons and bows.

I'm drunk in that annoying way--
you know: wine gone sour
in the belly, head heavy, ambition
for a sexy evening vanished.
Only a nap says to me, "Hey."
I'm glad you like the painting.



hans ostrom, 2013

Monday, April 15, 2013

Thanks: A Poem

Life happened to me,
fortunately. It could
not have happened
to me, quite possibly,
although there would
have been no I to have
missed the opportunity,
no sensor of vacuity.

Occasionally, one asks
why, or what have I done,
or what was I supposed
to do. No clue. I'm
nothing more than just
another you perceived or
not by other I's and yous,
we's and theys. Thanks are
a kind of praise.



hans ostrom, 2013

The Great Age of Fingernail Polish

Citizens, we've entered
the great age of fingernail polish.
I should be writing about things
less trivial. Apologies.
But I've been out among women
whose digital surfaces have been
enameled with all the colors
that have escaped the spectra.
And I could look at women's
hands forever. And women's hands
are not trivial.



hans ostrom, 2013

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Brain's Oven

The old woman
who slid a pan of cookies
into my brain's oven
never returned.
The cookies have turned
into black dots that float
across my vision.
I reek of burnt dough.

I lie on my side like a
buffalo who's been reading
Hegel on the parched
plain of Kansas for
example. Invisible merchants

empty microscopic vats
of hot slime on my neck,
my forehead. A thin woman
with cold fingers practices
scales on my spine,
and a chorus of angelic rats
prevents me from nodding off.

I raise one hand
as if to conduct
their concert. And I
pass out. I am a loser,
I am a loser, hallelujah
and amen.


2013 hans ostrom

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Financial Advice

"Mr. Debit, we advise you to put part
of yourself in stocks and part in bonds.
These punishments should occur in the
Town Square, as penance for your miserable
money-managing skills, and as an example
to all. Unfortunately, your folio seems
never to have left port. It's taking on water
and barnacles. Our projections indicate

you'll be able to retire uncomfortably
when all the mountains run into the sea.
By then, the National Economy
shall have melted, leaving a residue
of prosperity. In those far-off days,

travel by burro, but don't go near
the fortresses of the mega-rich
and super-celebrated. From bastions,
their minions will train designer-weapons
on you. You must understand that from
the wealthy's point of view, few
things drive down property-values
more than semi-retired, Quixotic
geezers sitting atop humble beasts.

Currently, your liquid assets fit
into a shot-glass and may be
downed in one gulp. Among
your liabilities is you. Please
try harder to be a credit to
yourself. Crawl low. Pray high,
and, incidentally, fuck you."

copyright 2013 hans ostrom

Homage to Jorge Luis Borges

In a long neglected room on an upper floor of Carolina Rediviva Library in Uppsala, Sweden, on the third of March,1967, Roberto de la Costa, in search of documents describing the medical treatment of wounded Swedish soldiers at the Battle of Poltava, discovered his own last will and testament. Accompanying material alleged the will to have been dictated by him, on his deathbed, to one Maria Vibrato.

Although the sound of this name
brought Roberto De la Costa pleasure, he had not known the name
before encountering it that day in the musty room full of documents. He learned from the will that he was to accumulate a not inconsiderable
estate but to dispose of it in ways with which, in March 1967, he
did not entirely agree. Reading to the end of the will, de la Costa learned that it had been witnessed by his now deceased mother, Gloria
Martinez Sierra de la Costa.


hans ostrom 2013

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Paul Robeson's birthday

Today is the birthday of Paul Robeson, anstonishingly talented athlete (4 sports at Rutgers, professional football), actor (Broadway and Hollywood), singer (operatic voice), attorney, and civil-rights leader. A poem about him by Gwendolyn Brooks:

Monday, April 8, 2013

The WSJ Is Unamused by Bowdoin College

The Wall Street Journal (April 6, 2013) has offered yet another critique of “liberal” colleges and their interest in diversity, among other things. Believe it or not, the complicated tale hinges on a golf-outing that the president of Bowdoin College experienced with “philanthropist and investor Thomas Klingenstein.”

During the outing, Klingenstein apparently told Mills, “I would never support Bowdoin—you are a ridiculous liberal school that brings all the wrong students to campus for all the wrong reasons” [and you have] “misplaced and misguided diversity efforts.” This is Mills’ version. Klingenstein later weighed in: “I explained my disapproval of ‘diversity’ as it generally has been implemented on college campuses: too much celebration of racial and ethnic difference,” coupled with “not enough celebration of our common American identity.” What that common American identity might be, he apparently did not say.

Klingenstein had also funded a study of Bowdoin by the National Association of Scholars. He apparently got what he paid for as the study discovered, at least according to the WSJ, that “[t]he school’s ideological pillars would likely be familiar to anyone who has paid attention to American higher education lately. There’s the obsession with race, class, gender and sexuality as the essential forces of history and markers of political identity. There’s the dedication to ‘sustainability,’ or saving the planet from its imminent destruction by the forces of capitalism. And there are the paeans to ‘global citizenship, or loving all countries except one’s own.”

What a lovely rhetorical moment has unfurled here. First, note the scene and the actors: A white male president of an exclusive college has his back-swing interrupted by a wealthy man who doesn’t like newfangled ideas. Hilarious. Nobody knows the trouble these two have seen. What next–a double-bogey on the 18th? One hopes the round of golf occurred at an exclusive country club because Klingenstein apparently complained that the school brings in “all the wrong students for all the wrong reasons.” Note that neither the WSJ nor the aggrieved wealthy golfer explain what makes “the wrong students” the wrong students. By the way, the online source Peterson’s [guide to colleges] says the student body at Bowdoin is 65% White or “Caucasian.”

Then, the WSJ plays the equivocation-game. The small liberal arts college has “ideological pillars.” It has courses that concern race, class, gender and sexuality; therefore, it is “obsessed” with these. Not that evidence matters, but if you look at the areas of study Bowdoin offers, you will find such subjects as math, physics, neuroscience, chemistry, biochemistry, music, philosophy, Classics, economics, art history, and a variety of “foreign” languages. Wow, what a radical bunch these Bowdoin folks must be!

The WSJ also claims that “[i]n the History Department, no course is devoted to American political, military, diplomatic or intellectual history—the only ones available are organized around some aspect of race, class, gender or sexuality.” But in the Spring term alone, you will find courses on “Colonial America and the Atlantic World, 1607–1763,” which surely includes military, diplomatic, and intellectual concerns, and a course on “Place in American History,” which “Investigates place as a set of physical and biological characteristics, as a product of the interaction between humans and the environment, and as a social and cultural construct. Also attends to the challenge of writing history with place as a central character” (Bowdoin online catalogue).

But the WSJ doesn’t like even a whiff of environmental issues: “There’s the dedication to ‘sustainability,’ or saving the planet from its imminent destruction by the forces of capitalism. And there are the paeans to ‘global citizenship,’ or loving all countries except one’s own.” Again with the equivocation. If you perceive the world to be highly connected—here we are, by the way, on the Internet—you don’t love your country. If you reasonably deduce that “we” are running out of water, facing the consequences of global warming, and encountering all sorts of problems with pollution, then of course you must be anti-capitalism—as opposed to being, you know, realistic and practical. And how dare Bowdoin offer opportunities for students to think about how to reverse the harm done to the planet.

The WSJ and the poor (read: wealthy), victimized Klingnstein have fielded an entire team of straw men in their arguments. Therefore, one must agree with them. Bowdoin should offer an old-fashioned course on rhetoric and invite them to take the course—online, in person, or on the golf course.

"Teacher," by Langston Hughes

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Soccer Goal

The soccer goal looks like a land net.
It is open to amphibious creatures
that may crawl, hop, or slither in.

This net won't keep its catch. It's
left that life behind, opposes
closure and captivity, embraces
emptiness. Heavy humans

routinely occupy this turf
to dramatize futility and make
a small ball mean too much.
They tire easily and depart.

Then comes the frog's time,
and moonlight, and dew.


hans ostrom 2013

Monday, April 1, 2013

She Spoke of Golf

The woman and the man
were watching some kind of screen
that projected images of men
playing golf. The woman said,
"You know, they always try to make
golf look interesting or exciting,
and it's just not." The man
thought this over. Then he said,
"You're right. It's really stupid.
It's a lot of grass, a lot of waiting,
and a little ball, and a lot of
mis-spent money, and, you know,
who really gives a shit?"
"Well," said the woman, "I know
I don't. Give a shit."



hans ostrom, 2013

"Are We Just April Fools?"

Steve McQueen Square

In Hollywood, Steve Mc-
Queen Square seems to be filled with
a petrol station.


hans ostrom

"An April Day," by Joseph Seamon Cotter, Jr.