Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Men at 60

Men at 60 have certain
urges. Check that. They
imagine they have certain
urges. Men at 60 are
uncertain. They rarely
speak or act as if
they are uncertain.

Men at 60 wonder if
they'll die right now
walking in sunlight or just
later sleeping or at
63.27, 80, 71, 69.45,
or . . . . Men at 60

unlike men at 40 or 50
aren't appealing, even
to themselves. Dear
Narcissus: Go fuck yourself.


Men at 60 have done it all
and done nothing and done
some things that have
amounted to nothing. They're
bored by photos of koala
bears and panda bears and
most every other
goddamned thing.

At 60 men eat the same things
over and over. Secretly
they hate their own opinions
most of all. If they don't,
they should. Men at 60

like to hear singing but
do not like to plan to or
to pay to listen to it.
Men at 60 have bizarre
ugly regions on their
bodies, too many to count.



hans ostrom 2014

Friday, February 21, 2014

Reconnaissance Pilot



The higher power and impersonality of satellites
and drones have nearly made him obsolete; still,
eccentrically aloft, he guides his delicate aircraft
on airstreams that flutter an enemy flag
several miles below, and he banks like the gesture
that leads a ballerina's turn, but he desires no audience.

What intricate obsession has jeweled this cockpit
with a dazzling, Latinate instrumentation?

In this black, airless sky of ice crystals,
his heat-sensitive cameras caress
an agriculture of warfare below: missile silos,
grids of weaponry, infantry and air corps
stored in barracks like dormant bees.

If he prays, probably it is a tactical prayer:
not to become a blotch of light smeared into a streak
by a radar's radial sweep. For when his wings
brush enemy airspace, he becomes a heresy against Treaty,
a target fit for the righteous, howling fighter-planes
curving up in silver clusters out of dark under-space.

In Indianapolis his wife once awoke terrified
from a dream in which ground-artillery
had blasted his airplane into a shower
of alloy and plexiglass; but in his own dream,
ejecting in time, he hangs by slender cords
beneath a dome of silk like a spider traveling on the breeze.
For those precious moments, he is borne in a world
without radio or loyalties or mission. And then he tumbles
on frozen turf or is it an orchard or a cornfield?--
slowly rises to un-clip the cords,
to assume his villain's stance like a scarecrow--
soldiers with faces
all alike flocking toward him, radios squawking
a foreign static, an orange dawn entering enemy East.

Captured, he knows he should be afraid or courageous,
but instead he simply longs for the farmland
surrounding Bloomington, Indiana.


copyright Hans Ostrom 1979/2014

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"Truck Driver's Aubade"



Listen: sunrise stirs bugs in dry grass.
The long whine of a steel guitar
curves into a wide blue highway.

This peace is easy to take, I'll tell you.
We kiss, kick off the covers
as if they were dead butterflies,
and grab each other, laughing.

The radio drops out its three-chord,
Two-minute-fifty songs,
most of them the same
except for the names, just like
the matchbooks in amber ashtrays
on the sticky counter-tops
on outdoor tables at truck-stops.

--Where I’ll rest elbows,
the thick roar of sixteen
tires still in my ears.

Darling, if I look at the ass of the waitress
while she's filling up my Thermos,
know it's only out of habit.

If my heart growls like a diesel for you
when dawn spills across the hood
of the Peterbilt, know I'm thinking of this morning

and of gearing down again on the grade
a full two miles from your place. This place. 


copyright Hans Ostrom 1983/2014

"Mainz, April"

 in memory of Karl Dietz

(1981)

Around the train station, all is order
and bewilderment, punctuality and haste.
The drivers pilot their hinged busses into the crowd
of stout German women and nervous U.S. soldiers.

It is April, and the sunlight is without warmth.
To account for the chill, one invents
a theory of weather, in which the wind
always blows from Berlin, from Poland, from Russia.
It is a short walk from this tense station
to the red sandstone cathedral
and the place where Gutenberg set up shop.

The buildings along the way are
unassuming, neither old nor new. They were built
when history paused for a moment,
as if history could do that.

You may notice a solitary, jagged wall--
a shard from an Allied bombing raid.
Schiller's statue faces a sparkling jewelry store.
The stone streets in the Altstadt
and the shoulders of the great cathedral
are a relief to uneasy visitors
and troubled Mainzers alike.
Or I imagine so.

Lore mumbles that the Allies preserved
Wiesbaden, across the river,
for Eisenhower’s headquarters.
In a frivolous moment, therefore, one might
think of the casino, the spas, the architecture,
and Brahms--and say, "The nineteenth century is over there."
Not true, obviously. There are only more flowers,
more parks, a less dogged procession of soldiers,
clerks, and managers. There is a big-hearted
colleague named Karl and his family.

Having a coffee indoors as the afternoon dies
too quickly, one thinks hard about the Cathedral,
Gutenberg's printing, the French fort, the river,
the bombing missions in which an uncle
may have taken part, the people bombed,
the people shipped to camps and ovens,
the people like me who were born afterward,
the people who will think of 1981
as a long time ago.

But nearly everyone seems to clutch
at this day in 1981, at every today, anxiously;
we are all in a rush to be on time--to
make the 17:25 bus, not the 17:52.
Punctuality becomes an end in itself.

Me, I seem anxious to get back to
the white stucco apartment
in Bretzenheim or to an office
in the glass-and-steel building
at Gutenberg University, where I teach
writing in English, American government,
and my own behavior, which
the German students mark.

A person is urged to think about
history, to have thoughts about
history, to opine. The truth is
I'm weary of trying to think
profound thoughts about
what happens, what happened.


copyright Hans Ostrom 1981/2014


Monday, February 17, 2014

A Graveyard in the Sierra




The one graveyard I will know.
The light of dreams and fierce shadows of nightmares
that passed through the nights of these minds: I think
of that one river I’ll know, the North Yuba, of water-logged leaves
turning over and shifting in the shadows of stones--
for one instant sharply seen through current’s surface.

Always the North Yuba River
that made this canyon, but only for a time: our minds.

We built a wall one August
at the bottom of the hill that is this graveyard.
My father had hurt his foot two weeks before.
Now he limped and smoldered,
griped with deep bruising and having to favor it.
I watched my step.

Heaped in dry dirt,
granite seemed desperate for a mortar-line,
a map of its riving. One night I dreamed
the mortar-line was a foot wide in places;
granite and quartz went to powder like dried mud,
and old men from Sierra City asked, What went wrong?
What have you done?

In that dream, the crumbling, un-crafted wall
was order I’d failed to bring. Now the North Wind
in my dream was free to scream.

In summer, swallows in the evening
circle over a pond in a pasture, dive and dip for insects,
missing, missing, curving up again, turning,
diving. The mind
in an evening of awareness,
curving out over its topography,
desires to recognize a history;
it dreams of a sudden pattern
on the surface of a pond like the face
of Christ Christians dream of.
We give ourselves over to order in daylight
only to have light of dreams
and fierce shadows of nightmares
pass through our sleeping minds
like scraping leaves--
the chaotic heart
pounding in a dark bedroom, frightened
by an old men’s questions.

The county is running out of land for graves.
It has ten thousand acres of timberland,
but the Dead are not a major voting bloc.
So my father thought of leaving niches
in the wall for urns. And when any of the old boys
(at most ten years from being sealed up in the wall
themselves) would wander up the hill to check our progress,
he'd tell them we were putting "ash-holes" in
and laugh harder than they would
and wink at me, reaching in his shirt pocket
for a can of snoose.
I'd nail together box-like forms
of plywood, wrap them in plastic, and grease them
so we could remove them easily later on.
My father built the wall around them,
creating what I thought of then as small formal caves,
like the cliff houses of the Anasazi.

Mixing mortar, sometimes I thought of all the caskets
crowded underground not ten feet from me
and thought, "What the hell am I working for?"
Or it would be just god-awful hot,
and I'd forget about the caskets and think,
"What the hell am I working for?" For money, of course.

Winter. The wall is long since finished, now snowed on.
His foot, healed. We drive up to the graveyard
one Saturday to bolt a brass American Legion plaque
over one of niches.
A typewritten note taped to the Post Office glass
says the ashes of the former storekeeper will be interred
next week in a brief ceremony. The “o” of these words
is gray at the center from worn type.
We unbolt the wooden cover:

A scorpion dances stiffly on the floor
of his cold cave, is curved up viciously,
a smoldering summer image in the mouth of winter.
He shuffles sideways in darkness,
funny and dangerous like a Vaudevillian psychopath.
We bolt the plaque to cold granite.
Snowflakes lodge in the hair on our hands.
We both think of the scorpion
locked in the wall of our making:

"That'll fix the son-of-a-bitch," my father says.
The old fireman who lives across the road
has left for the winter, the windows
of his white house shuttered.

In the hills, coyotes gnaw deer carcasses.
A howl of absence issues from snowed-over meadows,
from carcasses and mine tunnels in the hills,
from the canyon of the North Yuba.

We drive down the slushy road
that was white-hot in August
through Sierra City, empty in Winter,
and head out along Highway 49 toward the house;
we don't think not so much of the dead or the marvelous un-interred light
of their unrecorded dreams, but rather of black-iced asphalt
and of a red scorpion we sealed up in our wall
with childish delight.

Hans Ostrom 1980/2014

Friday, February 14, 2014

St. Valentine's Day Poem

Re-posting one from 2008:

Yes, I Do

I take full responsibility for
what I’m about to write, which is
that when she eats chocolate, some
ends up in a corner of her mouth.
She reprimands cinematic villains,
speaking directly to the TV screen.
I take full responsibility for the
fact that this is turning into a
love poem. She runs a business
in a sector of the global economy
known as “not-for-profit.” She
appreciates eccentricity. Has
long, melodramatic nightmares,
from which she wakes refreshed.
She eats the whole apple, core
and all. It’s my fault that I see
these qualities and details from
the vantage-point commonly
called love, and that I’ve already
used the word “love” twice, now
three times. I hold myself
accountable. She sings on pitch.
Likes swing, rock-and-roll, Sinatra,
Domingo, soul, rockabilly reverb,
and the cello. It was my error
to begin with the detail about
chocolate in the corner of her mouth.
To the degree this is a love poem,
and getting rather domestic, at that,
I’m to blame. She’s unabashedly
happy when a hot dinner’s waiting
for her after she’s been driving
in the rain. I do love her. I take
full responsibility. I do.

Hans Ostrom

from The Coast Starlight: Collected Poems 1976-2006, by Hans Ostrom

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"Algebra" (poem)



Corn signifies joy.
A lover's mouth represents
all the acts of confidence.
Hair is foreign and astounding.
Humanity itself is as unlikely
as its ideas.
Tonight I told myself,
"Allow yourself to be astonished.
Let corn, for instance, equal joy."



hans ostrom 1975/2014

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

This May Be Asking a Lot

Friend, I need you
to capture a lizard
and bring it to me.
I need you to set
my lyrics to music
and also purchase
my first-class plane-
ticket to Iceland. Sell
me your first edition
of Treasure Island
way below the market
value. Sift through
political information
and advise me how
to vote. Don't hang
up when I call. Plant
a redwood tree
in my name. Convince
me God is real, compliment
my choice of shirts,
and build me a new house.


hans ostrom 2014