Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Monday, March 30, 2015

Looking for Stephen Crane

"I want to know where
Stephen Crane is!" shouted
a man in the desert, which
was not obliged to reply.

"Get back in the car!" cried
a woman from a black,
courageous Buick
on a highway a few
paces away from the man.



hans ostrom 2015



Friday, March 27, 2015

"Thought Infrastructure"


They talk about the Thought Police.
But you need a Thought Fire Department,
too. Spray water on the rage. Use
a special foam for hateful thoughts.

Yeah, you need a Thought Court, too,
so one thought can sue another;
and, you know, some thoughts need
to spend some time locked up.

A Thought Sewage System to get rid
of bullshit thoughts. Thought Parks
and Recreation. And so on. You really
need to invest in your Thought Infrastructure.


hans ostrom 2015


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Fyodor


Fyodor, I think we would have gotten
very drunk together, and that
wouldn't have done either of us
any good. Still searching, but
I haven't yet found any writer
more delighted than you were
to dig into the muck
of consciousness. Others may
dig boldly or conscientiously,
some timidly, but you--
you did it in your prose with glee.

When I read your novels,
I get depressed and thrilled.
I get weary and joyful.
For about 45 seconds,
I may even become Russian.

I visited a "Dostoyevsky House"
they've created on your behalf
in St. Petersburg. It wasn't
bad at all. I bought a postcard
based on a painting of you.
I never sent it to anyone. Jesus
Christ, what you would have
thought of tourists! Lord,
help me: what you would
have thought of my
calling you "Fyodor."

Tolstoy overhead everything
that was said. You
overheard everything
that went unsaid.

Your books are as modern
as Dickens' aren't. You're
a brawler in prose.
You're also dead. What a
goddamned shame. Or is it?
It's so hard to know.


hans ostrom 2015




Blues for Esther Wagner

[Esther Wagner (1928-1989) earned a B.A. and a Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr. She taught at several liberal arts colleges, including the University of Puget Sound. She was a well read, generous conversationalist, colleague, and critic. She co-authored a novel, The Gift of Rome (1961) with one of her husbands, John Wagner. T.S. Eliot was a friend of her father's family, and she became friends with Erle Stanley Gardner, among other writers.]


It's too sad, darling.
But never mind, never mind.
Darling, never mind.

Let's pour a glass of sherry
and some goldfish crackers
and have a nice long chat.

Yes, we knew Eliot--Chicago.
We children referred to him
as Uncle Tom, darling--funny,
now that I think about it.

I always tell young people,
if you're sitting on a tack,
get up. This applies
to bad marriages, of course.

I'd glad you like Jarrell,
darling.. . . One encounters
ennui at mid-career. It
happened to me. If felt I'd
seen it all, read it all.
And for me, his poetry
came along at just the right time.

I don't believe in guilt,
I mean the emotion. A waste of time.
I also don't make any judgments
about people's sex lives--
consenting adults, you know,
and anyway, sex makes everyone
a little mad at one time or another.

Well, yes, it's hard to see
one's friends fall off the perch,
one by one. It's too sad. But never mind.

Get me another glass of sherry,please,
darling, and a beer for yourself--
and of course, I don't allow
beer bottles in the living room,
so do get yourself a glass.

Yes, the death's head on the ceiling,
above my bed. It's morbid to some.
Memento mori, darling.
It focuses the mind.

When I'm dying, I should like
to watch Roman Holiday
one more time. Lovely movie.

It's getting dark. And the rain.
It's too sad. But never mind,
darling. Never mind.


hans ostrom 2015



Oh, Ezra

Oh, Ezra. --With your crackpot prejudices
and loony economics: straight out of Idaho, dude.
The hick in me recognized the hick in your poetry:
all your learning didn't cover him up.

I never warmed to the picture we got
of you. It was just a picture, an ideogram
of Ezra Pound. Your poetry never warmed
to me. It stayed cold like something
made in a lab. You were a technician
with big ideas. Thomas Edison meets
P.T. Barnum and Confucius. You sold us
your patented brand of Modernism
and almost cornered the market.

Oh, Ezra. --With your rock-drill.
The exercise was more like dynamite
stuffed in drilled holes and lit:

The Cantos are great heaps
of blown up strata. I think I'm supposed
to revere your achievement, but I've
been around hard-rock mining
and know its awful secrets.

You and Frost would make great
room-mates in the Dorm of Immortality.
No end to the pronouncements,
the goddamned sagacity.
The jokes would be few and
not that funny. Plus the grudges,
the paranoia. Between you
and Robert, oh Ezra, a word-in-
edgewise would be apocryphal.


hans ostrom 2015


Monday, March 23, 2015

Feeling Bad? Try Thinking About Sex

When I get to
feeling bad,
I think about sex,
and I get to feeling better.

I was writing complex,
diffuse poetry
because I thought
I ought to. Now I think,
Why would anybody
want to do such a thing?


In a follow-up move,
I think about sex
and pass quickly through
the awful, damp wooden
tunnel of ambition
to the other side.

I've never been
a terribly chaste
person in spirit.
I'm starting
to feel sad about that fact.

So I think I'll think
about sex and come up
with some kind
of action-plan.


hans ostrom 2015

"It's Not a Competition"

It's not a competition.
It is a blues rendition
of an anthem that was
manufactured long ago.

I am in no condition
to make a sound decision
about gestures I might
make to you before you go.

Now I
see life
is a
landscape
covered
with corners.

Now I
see death
is my
corpse surrounded
by mourners.

It's not fusion. It's not fission.
It's by my own volition
that I sit and watch
the rain turn into snow.


hans ostrom 2015


"Please Rate Your User Experience"

He was asked, by a machine, to rate
his user experience. He did not rate it.
He was asked by advertising, government,
and media (which formed a single entity)
to believe what he heard, saw, and read.
He did not comply. He did read
labels on jars. He turned away.

He liked green light in corridors
as well as green corridors well lit.

He rarely mourned the loss of a
narrative thread. He thought
there was a sense in which
plots should be broken.

Where was John? Where
is John? Is his name
really John, or is it Ian
or Juan? Where is anybody?
Is this the . . .? No,
it isn't. Thinking about it,

he thought his user experience
was inconsequential. The rating-system
did not accommodate such thinking.
Meanwhile, he was trying to break
himself from the habit of thinking,
"What is to be done?"


hans ostrom 2015


Friday, March 20, 2015

"Pick Up Your Meds"

You might have to fall in love
with the names these pharmaceutical
oligopolies give to medicine--
fantastic nouns with neon
syllables like zan, zac, zole,
perc, pram, lam, and zone. Even
the oligopolies have a
med-moniker: Big Pharma.

It's the synthetic language
of weary magic-acts from last
century plus the detached
lingo of advertising that is
always floating above our heads.

We learn the names quickly when
the stuff's prescribed to us
or when we buy it on the street.
We learn them not at all when
it's not or we don't.

We go between docs and pharmacists
as mere messengers. Our bodies
wait patiently like bovines
for the med-food to be added
to our cuds. Where

science, chemistry, capital,
ailment, and diagnosis meet,
chants from a hybrid incantation
get printed
on bottles that are never clear.


2015 hans ostrom


Friday, March 13, 2015

"Don't Need It"

I'm in a meadow,
moving my hands
as if to design
and build a cabin
there. It is fun.
Good exercise.

I stop and breathe
and leave the meadow
because I do not
have to live there
and the meadow
doesn't need a cabin.

To dogs a meadow
is a gift of data.
To dogs warm sunshine
is like a god.


hans ostrom 2015


"Plenty of Enough"

He preferred disenchanted gardens,
their real dishabile.
Accepted how, without wizardry,
one seed became a huge plant
with edible stuff hanging from it:
that was plenty of enough.

If a unicorn or a nymph
should wander in
among the productive mess,
he'd offer the nymph
a sugar-pea pod
and wait for the unicorn
to generate manure.
Fertilizer, of course.

He liked to listen to bumble-bees
and watch the writhing dance of worms.


hans ostrom 2015

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

"Welcome to I Don't Know: Population--More Than a Few"

After traveling for decades
and imagining he was learning,
he came to the town
of I Don't Know. The

people there were too
chastened and bemused
to be more than humble.
Like him, they had enough

energy to express one,
at most two,
viewpoints per day,
and the custom

had become to follow
expressed opinions with
"That's just a guess" or
"But who cares what I think?"

Joking, of a kind,
was popular but always
rooted in absurdity,
not in superiority.

To the mechanic, he said,
"My car broke down. Can you
fix it?" She replied, "Don't know."
He said, "That is good news."


hans ostrom 2015



"Deconstructive Dialogue"


. . . And, working its long con,
Deconstruction said, The text
always contains within it its
contradictions, its demise.


The text said, What the fuck
you talking about, Jack?


The Deacon of Decon, snorting,
retorted, I am talking about
the labyrinth of language,
in which meaning is always, always,
deferred.


Except when it isn't, said the text.


hans ostrom 2015



"Likenesses of Slave-Owners"

Thinking of, among other things, the capital
generated by slaves, I guess it's grossly
appropriate that likenesses of slave-owners
appear on U.S. money. I also guess
that for a majority, it's offensive
to make the connection and, making it,
to mention it. I see the eyes roll
and sense the bile rising. I hear
the naked emperor's entourage
rushing to defend the founding
wardrobe: Valley Forge
and the Declaration are hanging
in the closet, they assert.
Get over it, they advise.
Well, anyway, the printed faces
of slave-owners lie, tenderly
and legal, in my wallet, and
that is how it is.


hans ostrom 2015









Monday, March 9, 2015

"Our Tune Is Changing"


We're among the first
who may choose to see
ourselves as living
mosaics generated
by variations encoded
on spiral ladders.

The tiles are selected
from the meeting of all
those who met: ancestry,
which ultimately is common.
We're all commoners.

Somehow now what we know
of social construction
and what the sciences
of genetics give to us
are so much grander
than mythology, dogma,
and bigotry: all the old
hoo-ha Each of us

is a compendium of chords,
first notes of which
were played in a place
we call East Africa;
then riffed on in
the slow compositions
of migration. The
genome's home.


hans ostrom 2015



"Go to Keep Going"


Our daily, nightly migrations,
en masse metal on wheels or wings:
routine, ferocious--
such an expenditure.

If we ask ourselves
to rethink the regulated
frenzy of to-and-back
to work, we will tell
ourselves we have no choice
and mean that to be
a good reason, sensible.

Commuting, we change
ourselves together
and permanently.
No one really
recovers from it.
We go to keep going.


hans ostrom 2015




Friday, March 6, 2015

"Strawberry Thoughts"

Apple trees have strawberry thoughts.

Thunder is dissatisfied.

When he opened the closet, the clothes
got quiet all of a sudden. They had
been making jokes about him.

Seeing lightning made her think
of maps and arthritis.

Hope covers dread like a watery,
weak lotion.

Street surfaces are a genre of art.

Fog, in some instances . . .

When the water-line broke,
the fountain in the public square
went dry, and we were sad to see
how plain the fountain looked
when it wasn't wearing water.

"This poet was an undrafted free
agent coming out of college, Al."
"That's right, Bob, and look at her now."


hans ostrom 2015



Wednesday, March 4, 2015

"Fyris River"

The Fyris River
is a fine small river--
energetic and direct.
It runs through
Uppsala there
in Sweden, I want
to say, but should
instead say energetic
and direct humans
built Uppsala up
around the river,
which they named
Fyris. The stones
and bricks and
water and light and
birds and darkness
all seem familiar
with each other
there in Sweden,
Uppsala, as if
they have worked
things out pretty
well. I did not
however speak to
any fish. I tried
to do so once
when I paused on
a bridge over
the Fyris on
my way to the bookstore
during Book Month or
Reading Month or
whatever it was.
The fish were
indisposed, reading
perhaps.



2015 hans ostrom



"This Man Has a Good Job"

Bar codes, mumbling toads, and driving and
driving and trying to beat last quarter's
sales-numbers, trying to pound those numbers
into the ground of the territory: this man

sweats, and thinks, and drinks brown
sugar-water infused with caffeine and
feels the adrenaline rush of listening
to Rush's voice and feeling Rush is right
on everything, he agrees with me, I agree
with him, totally! In his car, this man
is truly alone, like Rush in his
broadcast-bunker. He doesn't care,

this man, because his way of thinking
is we're alone even when we're with
clients, family, and other kinds
of seemingly people. "I like
what I do for a living," he tells people.
"What I hate is paying taxes, of any
kind, and I want the Government
to take its finger out of my ass."

On the interstate highway, however,
his mind is taxed, and it tells him,
"Bullshit. Say to yourself the truth,
at least. You find something that
pays, you do it, you keep doing it,
you like being away from her and them,
and one day the pump goes,
and you go, she and they get
the insurance, and someone else
takes the territory." Meantime,

he switches the noise from Rush
to sports talk radio.



hans ostrom 2015



Monday, March 2, 2015

"Inventory"

The man deduced he was dead
and, uninspired, named the entity
he saw "angel." Entity asked him,
"Tell me how you spent all
that energy and time given to you
during your life, please."

The man began to answer,
then stopped and collapsed
into a wee pile of spiritual
wretchedness. Quite
the metaphysical mess.
Entity, or "angel,"
observed this for a while
and then spoke:

"Yes, it can be difficult,
this part. After you die,
you must be broken down further
before you go on to more
pleasant tasks."


hans ostrom 2015