Friday, August 18, 2017

"August," by Lizette Woodworth Reese

White Supremacy and the Liberal Arts

There’s no question that the liberal arts college, the prestige model of American higher education, has been inherently reactionary and even White Supremacist.  For it has rooted itself in a meta-narrative in which the most prized knowledge in the U.S., filtered through Europe, is a bleached package from Greece and Rome.  Linguistically and otherwise, of course, there are legitimate reasons to trace legacies from these two empires.  Problems arise when the influence of Africa, Arabia, and Asia gets deliberately ignored.  Invasions, migrations, and the nature of these empires itself make the lines from Athens and Rome to Europe and the U.S. very messy, but that is not how the Classics, etc., get taught.   Further, the original 7 liberal arts were much plainer, pragmatic, and career-oriented than what the American version has become. (A good read is Rebecca Futo Kennedy’s essay, “We Condone It By Our Silence: Confronting Classics’ Complicity in White Supremacy,” Eedolon:
True, critiques of Whiteness, colonialism, White Supremacy, the politics, culture, and terrorism of slavery, etc., do get expressed at liberal arts colleges.  But they remain on the frothy surface of what goes on.  Institutionally, ethically, and psychically, the colleges remain bastions of Whiteness.
One factor that contributes to the impervious character of the colleges is that they depend economically on middle-class and upper-class White families.  If the latter didn’t exist, neither would the colleges, which are worried now that the demographics are shifting, but which seem incapable of acting on the worry.  The liberal arts colleges that are most successful at recruiting and retaining students of color have, for example, percentages of Black students in the low single digits.  The rest have percentages that hover around or below 1%–in 2017, coming up on 400 years since Africans were forced into slavery on these shores.  The demographics alone of the faculty, student body, and upper level staff mean that White Supremacy gets baked into everyday life on a liberal arts campus.
Given the percentages, it doesn’t require much imagination to envisage what life is like for Black students on these campuses.  Daily micro- and macro-aggressions. The extra duty to serve to educate White students, faculty, and staff who, at best, express their liberalism by being “interested” in “what it’s like” to be Black, and who at worst discriminate, ignore, dismiss, and belittle.
Further, these colleges–in spite of the image of broad-mindedness they project–are bastions for faculty who deploy the propaganda of “political correctness.  –And who deploy the weird logic that diversity must equal lower standards, when in fact some of the most academically incompetent students are White ones whose family wealth has paved an easy road.  The colleges also tend to attract faculty who are White and middle class and ruling class and who bring the same ignorance and prejudice to their teaching as any White American would.
So, at a liberal arts college, it is likely that one might hear from faculty and staff such utterances as the following, and I’m not kidding:
“Why don’t they [Black students] just go to historically Black colleges?”
‘”It’s White, conservative Christians who are most discriminated against around here.”
“If they [students of color] don’t like it here, they’re free to leave.”
“I’m sick of diversity.”
“I’m much more interested in the declining percentage of White males in higher education.”
“I don’t like hiring African American colleagues because they arrive with presumptive tenure.”
And so on.  And such comments are made from a position of safety, and they’re made by faculty of stature, not as one might think by the notorious cranks in the faculty, although they make them too.
It’s still common for liberal arts faculty to make the “native informant” move, whereby, when a question related to African American history or culture comes up in class, the professor turns to the one Black student in class (or allows a White student to do the same) and asks the Black student to become a spokesperson for an entire ethnicity.
Faculty of color, especially Black faculty, have a hell of a time, too.  White faculty will compliment them on being “so articulate,” or just simply act weird around them.  Black faculty must often take on the invisible burden of counseling Black students about how to survive at the college.  This requires added hours and emotional/intellectual energy.  It’s like sailing into a stiff headwind.
The scale of liberal arts colleges can make teaching and learning more effective.  For the most part, professors, not adjunct faculty, teach the classes.  This is not necessarily an improvement, but at least the pay is fair and the professors are bit more invested in the place. But in spite of the cosmopolitan self-presentations of these colleges, they tend to be insular, figuratively incestuous, and provincial.  Greek systems, inherently reactionary, traditionally racist and misogynist, only reinforce these qualities.
The identities of liberal arts colleges usually depend on illusions of “tradition,” and “tradition” and various kinds of safety and care figure heavily into liberal arts marketing.  And of course we know how tradition and “safety” can be translated into White Supremacist practices.  For example, Black students at liberal arts colleges routinely get followed or accosted by “Security” for no reason than that they are Black. It is a problem that is both chronic and acute.
In spite of highly promoted and self-congratulatory “diversity” efforts involving modest changes to curricula and programming and lots of noise about a welcoming, tolerant community, most liberal arts colleges have hardly made a dent in their Boards of Trustees (often composed of White wealthy alums), faculties, and administrations.  They tend, strategically, to silence straight-from-the-shoulder critiques of the White status quo by pointing to modest, even token, changes.  White faculty, staff, and students often go directly to playing the victim, complaining that they mean well, aren’t racists, and have done a lot, so why are you being so ungrateful?   You know that move as well as I do.
As with the nation itself, I don’t see any serious changes ahead for most liberal arts colleges when it comes to examining their White Supremacist character, assumptions, and practices.  The self-interrogation, discipline, patience, and strength required just isn’t there, and there are simply too many rewards, many of them monetary, for staying the same.  And, culturally, there is just too much invested in the mirage of “the small liberal arts college”; this powerful illusion is part of the White Supremacist “American Dream” that Ta-Nehisi Coates describes and analyzes  in Between the World and Me. Arguably, American liberal arts colleges contribute as much to the White Supremacist status quo as does the Republican Party, with its dog-whistles and Southern Strategy, its fake textbooks (in which, for a Texas example, African slaves are referred to as “immigrants), its mask of Christian piety, and so on.   Most of these colleges have endowments large enough to stay White forever, so they will.
Further reading:
“How White Supremacy Lifts Liberal Whites,” by Gail Cornwall.
“Top-Ranked Liberal Arts College is Calling for Its President to Address Its ‘Legacy of White Supremacy,'” by Abby Jackson.
“For Christ and His White Kingdom–An open Letter to the Wheaton College Community on White Supremacy,”
“Diversity in This Progressive Cycle: Where Are We? An Issue Too Close to Us–We Cannot [sic] Possibly Ignore It,” by Luke Carberry Mogan.
“Bates + Who? An Open Letter to the Bates College Faculty.”
“White People Are Amazed that a White Woman Was Treated Like a White Woman,” Michael Harriot, The Root.
“Race and Racism at Colorado College: Revealing Micro-Aggressions and Institutional Negligence,” by Han Sayles,
“De-Segregating International Relations: A Conversation with Robert Vitalis on ‘White World Order, Black Power Politics,”
“The Case of the University of Puget Sound Three,” by Clifford Cawthon.
What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? Classroom Politics and ‘Bias’ in Higher Education, by Michael Bérubé, W.W. Norton, 2007. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Moon in Those Wild Magma Years

("The Moon May Have Had a Heavy Metal Atmosphere with Supersonic Winds,"
by Lisa Grossman, Science News, June 2017)

We thought we knew the moon:
pale and cool, the hard-working
servant of love, myth, tides,
Americans, and a genre called horror.

Turns out in its youth, the moon
was a crazy ball of magma, so hot
it vaporized metal and forged
an atmosphere, which brought

winds so blastful they made
waves in magma. (Surf this, bro.)
Finally this heat-addicted sphere
went straight, got clean, dried

out.  It slept it off under blankets
of sodium snow. When it awoke, it
had pock-marks. With chill indifference
it received cordial light from the sun.

hans ostrom 2017

Cooling Crow

This city's hot and smoky: fires
in British Columbia, climate change.
My acquaintances the crows are
suffering. I daily provide them
food, water, and a target for their ire
(me).  Today though they're really hurting.

On a wire, one of them looks
straight up at sky and opens
his mouth.  The bifurcated beak
looks like an enormous black
clothespin. This is the posture
of crow prayer.  God will listen.

God made crow. (Don't tell crow!)
This is the posture of a performed
aria in a silent crow opera. This
is crow cooling off. ( You knew
it would be dramatic.) This is rare
crow, too hot to caw complaints.

hans ostrom 2017

Oyster Shells

(near Hoodsport, Washington)

Otters, people, and seabirds covet
the plump valved purse
inside the casing, so every tide
leaves a pale gray rubble

of pillaged oyster shells,
which look like shards
of cloud that fell and
hardened.  Exterior:

rough sculpted, abstract,
ruffled at the edges
like concrete lace.
Some shells still embrace

a stone, creating a tactile
drama of inanimate passion.
It might remind us
that nature's an agony.

Oyster shells seem to ask
to be rescued and given value
in an economy. We pick some
up and carry them around a

while. They're fascinating
and worthless.

hans ostrom 2017

Monday, August 7, 2017

Christ Based Cleaning

A sign on the side
of a white van
CLEANING.  Excellent.

Gets a person hoping
for miracles mixed
with mopping and sweeping
and for a higher

minimum wage; for
speaking the truth
to local imperial thugs--
maybe after work?

This is just me, but
I wouldn't want evil
spirits cast into pets
that then sprint demonically

off a cliff. No. Throw
those bad seeds out
with the trash. Recycle
them for bloated politicians

to use ineptly. Oh,
Christ, more than a
billion times, y'all must
have thought, "What will

they think of next?"

hans ostrom 2017

Traffic Surf

Car traffic tonight
2017 sounds like a metal
ocean, tires and tires
laying down bass lines.

I've never wanted
to tell a sea to shut up.
In fact I've treated
surf noise as a lullaby

composed by hubris.
Concerning this endless
traffic enjambment,
my attitude is flat,

as if an itinerant psychiatrist
had injected my
brain with novocaine and
filled my ears with alloy.

hans ostrom 2017

Monday, July 31, 2017

At the Edge of the Road One Evening

He was quite high and making
up nonsense songs as he stood
in battered sandals on the gravel.
Dusk. In one of the lyrics he

rhymed spaghetti with confetti.
It was a mournful ballad.
Turning from composing and
performing, he asked himself

if there was any discernible
reason for humanity. He was weary
of the standard answers. He
imagined looking at the human-

phenomenon from another side
of the galaxy and thinking,
"What's that for?" in a British
accent. He then heard his name

called and listened to the familiar
voice as if for the first time. Then
it was no longer dusk but night,
what a drag.

hans ostrom 2017

They Call Him The Numerator

Yeah, that's me.  The Numerator.  Freelance.
I'll work with any denominator--they all
think they're the sum of all parts, anyway.

Me--I come in, I represent myself
and no one else.  I get paid the same
whether I'm working for a 3, a

million, a square root, or some
ludicrous boutique unit. I have to say,
it's still a thrill to work as

one over one.  Gives one a bit of an
autotelic buzz.  All about a fitted whole
in a fragmented world, or some shit like that.

hans ostrom 2017

Sunday, July 30, 2017


Small stingrays propel floating
as if they were broad flesh-leaves
rising from secret forests on the sea
floor. How can their skin be so softly
liquid to the touch? How can the edges
of their bodies undulate and curl so subtly?
The rays move like intuitive insight
through the mind of the water. They
are a marvelous surmise.

hans ostrom 2017

Saturday, July 29, 2017

What They Told Him

You need a special color. The right card. The
appropriate look and lingo. You have to know somebody,
but not just anybody. Are you on the list?
No, not that list, stupid. It's not our fault

we resent you. You don't belong here.
We belong. You're not us. How did
you even get in here? Get out or we'll
call somebody, but not just anybody.

It's not our fault we hate you. It's yours.
You made that choice. If you were just
like we like people to be, you might
be all right, but you're not, so  you're not.

Got it? It's not our fault we don't know
anything about you.  Why should we? We
don't have time. We keep a list of  people
who's fault things are.  You're on that list.

hans ostom2017

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Free-Radical Yearning

Sunlight just
before dusk
adds gold to fir trees'
in the boughs, dark lapis.

And sky's color
behind is at its palest
blue all day. I've
seen this burnished image,
only slightly varied,

hundreds of times
in the Sierra, in Sweden
and Germany, in
Istanbul and the Pacific

When it soaks in,
it always generates
a slow longing,

an impersonal sadness
involved with grandeur,
peace, and hope--all
far, far out of reach.

The heart, as we call
that mental zone, pretends
to want to ask the trees
to stay in that light,
beg the scene never to leave.

The question's
really a way to savor the mild
spiritual soreness, this
free-radical yearning,
this old, old emotion
which even other species
of hominid felt,
drawing from an immense,
invisible psychic lake.

hans ostrom 2017

Dragonfly Corpse Recovery

A blueberry's what
the head of the dead dragonfly
looked like.

A blueberry with a small
metallic visor attached.  Do you
covet video
of what was perceived and how
through that mono-goggle? Me, too.

The body looked like one of two
elegant eyebrow
from under which a Persian woman
looks wisely
upon the world. And the wings?
Stained glass

done in ash-gray, or crystal
for hiding in fog. When the head
fell off
and fell into a paper cup,
it sounded like a final pebble
hitting a coffin.

The legs were a bunching of
collapsed angles,
the knees so terribly delicate.

Things fall apart.  Creatures, too.
But it's also true
that this dragonfly was one of those
beings that show

how Evolution's patience delivers
functional art
and inspired form to its client,
the unsentimental Earth.

hans ostrom 2017

Sunflowers Are Sad, Experts Claim

Propaganda notwithstanding, sunflowers
are morose. Their puritanical, resolute
stalks lift them up to be sacrificed
to the gods, which employ birds, flied,
and bees as visiting priests. The central

cycloptic seed-cushion--color of tobacco
juice--weighs too much, like depression.
Too, please note the celebrated solar petals

wrinkle like Edwardian handkerchiefs
left in a jungle. Oh, Sunflower, foster
child of Old Bill Blake, 1960s advertising,
and baseball players: I bow my head
to you and yours.  You grow, I garden,
and it's all work, isn't it?

hans ostrom 2017

Transformation: Footballer

(soccer, that is)

When I become a footballer, I run across
grass exuberantly but usually stumble into
thick mud as it were: halted.  I become

two years old again and stab at and stomp
and kick things with my legs. Adrenalin-
incited, I then oscillate between manic

ambition and dispirited lethargy. Every
so often, ambition gets what it wanted
with regard to a ball and some netting.

Sweat-ecstasy. For a moment held
in the raucous hive-mind of the Folk.
Even as I begin to celebrate, I feel

the thrill begin to fade. I see the howling
crowd drunk in the rain, and I turn 51
and lie on a couch snoring while TV

broadcasts a soporific match.

hans ostrom 2017

Today in Memory World

Another brilliant day
of pretending to recover
time by accessing images
of spaces-past and a few
of the people in them then,
including us. It's a strange
system, but it's about all
we have. Meanwhile, we
continued to float down the
river for the first and last time.

hans ostrom 2017

Friday, July 21, 2017

Aren't We?

Tonight the rice-marsh glows,
and rows of plum trees feed
their purple particulars. The scene
means food. Poetry and photography
will want to extract more from it,
impose more on it.  They're tools
of the greedy, insatiable grunting
wanter with the frothy name,
Imagination. No. We're not doing
that tonight. For we're satisfied.

hans ostrom 2017

A Sultan at Sunset

Thirty feet up, the hummingbird hovered,
looking at sunset behind blue, wrinkled
Olympic Mountains. After a long day
of nectar-hauling, why not? Sitting facing

East, I watched the bird watch. I then
saw it trace with its body an enormous
precise circle in air.  Wondering what
or if this circle signified was a gift

grand enough for a sultan.  The invisible,
unforgettable shape suggested geometric
graffiti, avian ritual, or a secret signal
to the sun.  I almost applauded.

The whirring bird zipped off to close
the astounding performance: what a pro.
As Sultan, I decree my hummingbird
equal to Whitman's eagle, Poe's raven,

the crows of Ted Hughes and Al
Hitchcock, Shelley's and Mercer's
skylark, and Bukowski's murdered
mockingbird. (I refuse to discuss

Yeats's rapist Zeus-goose.) The effect of
this decree, the Sultan does not know.

hans ostrom 2017

Millipedes and Words

Those armored locomotive tubes,
millipedes, lived with us, resting
on cool cinder-block walls
in our tomb-like living room.

We left them alone unless guests
were expected. (You know how
guests are.) Otherwise, they stank
too much to mess with, excreting

hydrogen cyanide, and their
innards were too awfully, softly
much. (I killed one in the bathroom
once.) If we'd lived in Thailand, say,

where millipedes aspire to be snakes
then some frontier shit would have
gone down. Since they were only of
several purple-brown inches, co-

habitation worked satisfactorily.
This arrangement was decided
silently, no family discussion
(the horror). Words were to be spent
on work, hilarity, or arguments.

hans ostrom 2017

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Another Old Concept Stopped By Today

Home is a place where you keep
your stuff and almost have privacy.
Could be mansion, could be cardboard
box.  Home is were you live
at the moment.  Is home home?

I have felt it isn't.  I have felt
it is a forgery.  That said, Go home,
said with kindness quietly,
seems to be in every language
always good advice.  Probably

home is where you'll probably
stay instead of going to that
other place to do those sociable
things.  Home might be. With luck
it might be where things are easier.

hans ostrom 2017

Lighting Out

I'm lighting out for infinity.  I don't
yet have a firm idea of when
I will arrive. Oh, everybody says
it's going to take me "forever."
The truth is they don't know.

Who could blame infinity
for getting sick of extending
itself, for stopping and settling
down?  I think on my way,
I'll come around a bend,

and there will be a town,
a scape of mirrors, towers,
boulevards, gardens with
gigantic butterflies and
multicolored trees.  It will

all have been designed by
close associates of time.
After I settle in, I'll
ask if anybody knows the street
on which I might find infinity.

Of course I'll try to reach
the residence by phone or signal
ahead of time.  Manners matter.
What sort of gift should I bring?
What sort of song should I sing?

hans ostrom 2017

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Key

There's someone in the basement wailing.
It must be that fellow other tenants call Poe.
That's all I know. Wailing and Poe.
I don't own, don't hold the keys to,
that ambitious dungeon. Otherwise,
I'd knock trepidation aside and descend
toward the sound like a responsible person.

I start wailing myself.  Weakly, at first.
And I begin to wonder what the tenants
will call be, if indeed mournful cries
lead to nicknames and dungeons.  It
all depends on what the rules are. The key
will be to know who has the key.

hans ostrom 2017

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

I Robin, I

I robin tip
my body forward
on an axis
when I hop-walk.
I robin stand
up tall after
I stop. I
robin turn my
head to listen
to/look at grass,
so to seek
evidence of worms.

I robin swallow
a worm whole
with a bit
of dirt. I
robin may also
chop worms into
pieces, then eat,
or take them
back to nestlings

I robin like
my orange feather
shirt and my
gray feather jacket.
I robin fly
and hop with
other robins long
ways after something
changes in the weather's
tone of voice.

I robin flute
fluidly my tune,
I robin I. 

hans ostrom 2017

Monday, June 26, 2017

Harrier Mind

Your mind's pressing in again,
isn't it?  Harrier mind. It raps
on doors and windows, jiggles
locks, leaves ugly messages.

It's a double agent, a drill
sergeant, a bully, a beast.
Hunker down. Think of this
annoyance as mental theater.

Fall asleep before intermission,
muttering, "Mind, you exhaust me."

hans ostrom 2017

Big Shift Necessary

Oh, Switzerland, oh
shoes. Oh piety and booze.
Oh capitalists and nest-
robbers, mud-daubers
and multi-chambered tombs.

Oh wombs and the women
who carry them and carry
history, mystery, misery,
work, and care.  Where
is the wisteria? Where
are the boundaries drawn
by people who shouldn't?

Oh people, grow up.  It's
time. Stop worshiping
stupidity and sanctifying
greed. Lose the White
Supremacy and its evil,
desiccated heart. Discharge
sinister ministers. Own up.

'Fess up. Follow the money,
but don't let it be Lord. We
are one species, so work it
out from there.  Oh, hair.

hans ostrom 2017

Found Towns Lost

In daylight tiny
rural towns pretend
not to feel foolish
and depleted. There's
activity. An enthusiastic
conversation or two.
Errands and repairs.

At night streets
(such as they are)
become empty corridors
because people give
up, go inside, and
refuse to be towns-
people, too ridiculous.

Some shops weep,
others moan. If electricity
goes there at all, it
races through power
lines hoping not to be
used there. Before

dawn, animals file
through in a loose
parade.  Raccoons,
stray dogs, feral
cats, owls, and sometimes
a coyote. The stoic church
bell sweats rust, and
all the glory's in ornate
tombstones on a hill.

hans ostrom 2017

Friday, June 9, 2017

You Know?

We know we know
enough to know
we'll never know
enough to say
for sure we're sure
we know enough.

hans ostrom 2017

Leonardo Showed Her Smile

Please consider starting
with this premise:
Ms. Mona Lisa's smile
is not mysterious.

Now you may release
the heap of stifling baggage,
and if you like,
enjoy the image as it is.

(after reading Leonardo Da Vinci, by Sherwin Nuland [2005].

hans ostrom 2017

William Tell Ravine

(a tributary of the North Yuba River, Sierra County, California)

Before he'd heard anything about Switzerland, Schiller,
Rossini & stuff, he'd looked across the river from the house
at the long white beard of William Tell Falls. The sheer-drop
ravine seemed perpendicular.  No home for trout.  Im-

pulsively, as usual, he decided to hike up there when he was
17. He headed out, crossed the river, climbed straight up,
more laddering than walking. Ravine was path as rock
and manzanita brush walled the sides. He made it

as far as the flat pool the falls slapped in a-rhythmic
pulses. Sounds of that constant collision careened
around the stone box. There was no climbing further.
In soaked jeans and wet boots, legs loaded up

with lactic acid, he slithered down like an arthritic
snake, satisfied to have spied on a geologic scene,
to have introduced himself to William Tell Ravine,
and to have seen water and rock in their own time.

hans ostrom 2017

Monday, June 5, 2017

American White Supremacy: the Constant Plague

It leads to the continuing slaughter and unnecessary imprisonment of African Americans.  It leads to impoverished and working-class Euro-Americans to vote catastrophically against their own personal and economic interests.  It leads Euro-American women to vote for an admitted sexual assaulter for President. It leads to enthusiastic, widespread display of a flag that represents slavery, rape, murder, and terror: the Confederate flag. It leads to an irrational foreign policy.  It gets conflated with patriotism and Americanism. 
It leads “pro-life” "Christians" to support a murderous justice system and a savage attitude toward healthcare, both of which kill people, just as it once led them to own slaves and lynch human beings.  It leads to de facto Jim Crow educational policies.  Even in relatively improved situations—such as the status of African Americans and Latino Americans in higher education—it leads to continuing dehumanization: racist graffiti on campuses, racist security “services,” racist treatment of professors and students, etc.
It is White Supremacy, an idea rooted in the fake science of 17th and 18th centuries, completely fictional constructions of multiple human species when in fact there is only one.  And obviously this idea helped to make slavery and genocidal colonialism, among other things, morally acceptable to alleged Christian nations, including ours.
White Supremacy never goes away.  It only changes shape, at most.  Slavery has ended, but widespread immiseration of minority populations remains, as does a proliferation of hate groups and lynching talk from elected representatives:  while still a U.S. Senator, Jim DeMint said of newly elected President Obama, “we will break him”; recently an elected official in the South said those responsible for removing monuments to confederate figures should be lynched.   The mindset leading to such rhetoric determines the character of the GOP, which is a White Supremacist Party.  As noted, de facto Jim Crow practices remain in the justice system, the political systems (voting rights eroded), the educational system, and the healthcare system.
Shortly before she retired from the liberal arts college at which I teach, a highly respected, nationally decorated colleague said to me, after I had mentioned the miserable jog the college did at recruiting and retaining Black students, “Why don’t they [African American students] just go to historically Black colleges [as opposed to “annoying” “us”,” I guess was the rest of the point.  In the GOP mind, she probably counts as a typical “liberal” professor.  Liberal and White Supremacist, unapologetically so.  Multiply her worldview by hundreds of thousands, and you’ll get some sense of how White Supremacy vitiates allegedly enlightened institutions. Imagine how that worldview inspires innumerable micro- and macro-aggressions, every day. 
White Supremacy affects the Left, with hard-line quasi-socialists, including Bernie Sanders, downplaying (at best) the presence and effects of racism.  It affects liberals, who may say the right things but are almost never as aggressive as they need to be to wipe out White Supremacy.  It affects seemingly smart men like Justice Roberts, who asked, when the continuation of the Voting Rights Act was before the court, just how long such an Act (and other measures) was supposed to be allowed to go on.  In other words, when would “they” (African Americans) be satisfied?  Embedded in the rhetoric is the attitude of a White Supremacist doing somebody a favor and growing oh so weary of it.  The answer to the “how long” question is “as long as it takes,” of course.  And of course his Court struck down the Act, or at least its most potent parts, and doing so led directly to widespread voter suppression in the South and Midwest, where White “Christian” governors and legislatures reign.
It affects identity, not just in the narrow sense of “identity politics,” but in the sense that millions of Euro-Americans simply cannot construct an identity that doesn’t depend significantly on the belief that in some deep biological sense, they are superior to African Americans. 
I just had lunch with a remarkably smart, well educated, successful former student who is African American.  She said that after Trump was elected, “it didn’t take long” for a White man driving a truck with a Confederate flag decal to yell the N-word and other violent expressions at her—no, not in the South, but in Westlake Village, Los Angeles.  Subsequently she visited Kansas City, Missouri, where she “didn’t feel safe” because of how White folks were behaving in public.  Multiply her experiences by millions and imagine the psychological impact on African Americans.  Imagine the stress this impact creates.
White Supremacy is certainly tied up in Trump’s pulling out of the Paris accord on global warming because gleeful ignorance, doing thing because you can, showing contempt for scientists in particular and higher education and research in general, and throwing your imagined White Man weight around are linked to this problem of identity.
It affects the media, not just White Supremacist Fox News but also more mainstream outlets, who rarely mention the profound White Supremacist appeal of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and the rest of the GOP and who rarely challenge the Democrats on their feckless or non-existent responses to racist policies. 
It certainly affects academia, informing notions of the liberal arts, hurting students and professors, and leading other professors into very sad, racist territory, putting the lie to all their high-minded posturing.
Decades ago, the genial, urbane legal scholar Derrick Bell told me that he was telling friends that vicious racism [White Supremacy] in the U.S. would never go away.  And he added that a feeling of relief, at least briefly, came over him when he recognized and expressed that fact.
As a political and social entity, Euro-Americans have always had the power to knock the crap out of White Supremacy.  Instead, they take half-measures—at best.  Otherwise, they are by turns uselessly guilty, stupidly liberal, viciously “conservative” [let’s get real: the GOP is the same as the Dixiecrat Party], unctuously sympathetic, and enthusiastically harmful. They say shit like “I never owned slaves,” which is supposed to lead to the logical conclusion that “so I don’t have to do anything about White Supremacy [except enjoy it.”  “All lives matter,” “Obama got elected—what more do you want?,” “make American great again,” “Obama isn’t American,” and yadda yadda yadda. They do things like defending  murderous policing and voting for Donald Trump, already in the category of worst presidents ever--although he doesn’t own slaves, as Jefferson and Washington (among others) did. 
Euro-Americans simply won’t get the job of eradicating White Supremacy, its legacies, and its consequences, done.  Much of the time, they perpetuate it, on purpose or through indifference and willful ignorance.  White Supremacy should be, but never will be, part of our daily political dialogue, given the horrors for which it has been responsible.  It is at the amoral core of the U.S.  It is the most obvious matter of urgency and the most ignored.  Sure, there are multiple factors that led to the election of a gleefully White Supremacist, “birther” President, who is catastrophically unfit for that position.  But if there were no White Supremacy or if there were only an enfeebled remnant of it, there would be no President Trump.   
The disease of American White Supremacy thrives like a plague.  It makes everybody sick, one way or another.  I have no clue what to do about it, even though I write against it and do very tiny things in my very tiny sphere to oppose it.   I wish something would wake up Euro-Americans, en masse.   Wishing is not a strategy. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Cookbook Unrest

I hear the cookbooks in the kitchen--
garrulous relics from pre-digital times.

They flop around on the floor. They
gossip about how and what I cook.

"Seriously," one of them says, "if he's
going to improvise all the time,

why consult us, why insult us?"
God damn their greasy pages.

The chefs who authored them: bah!
No one should be famous for cooking.

A cat has heard the books now.
He becomes a lynx and bounds

off into the kitchen.  It's quiet
in their all of a sudden.  That's right:

close yourselves, you recipe barns.
Digest your dissatisfaction.

hans ostrom 2017

Fowl Dreams

If I were a bird,
I'd ride on air and often
cock my head for different
angles. At night I'd close
my eyes from the bottom,
snooze on a roost,
and rest my beak.

Anything with a brain
dreams. Oh, imagine--
you can try: what
kind of dreams do
birds dream, and why?

Maybe they dream
of staying still and having
food come to them.
Maybe they dream
of the time when they
were dinosaurs.

hans ostrom 2017


I'll tell you what it's like to be a ghost:
No one sees you.  If you talk, people
don't hear. They will not see you wave.
The apparitional circumstance
is worse than loneliness. It is

to experience nothing.  It is to be
the consciousness of No. Being a ghost
is like wandering an Earth covered
with desert.  It is the desolation
of an infinite bleached sky.

hans ostrom 2017

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Blues Collage

brown earth, muddy river
slashing sun, hard hands
long train, long train, long train

hard laughter, heavy fatigue
broken tools, bad food
long train, long train, long train

sweet tea, hot coffee
cold beer, good jukebox
cool rain, cool rain, cool rain

hans ostrom 2017

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


Mother, gather. Father,
proffer. Mother, other.
Father, farther. Mother,
smoother. Father, rather.

Mother, feather. Father,
weather. Mother, mystery.
Father, factory. Mother,

whisper woe, oh
no. Father falter slow.
Father go, gone.
Ma, Pa, dead,

dust, as they
must, as we
must, just so
very soon. And

the moon here
from the first,
once of Earth,
round and round.

hans ostrom

Lunar Eclipse Seen from the Central Valley

(California: April 1979)

 We sipped tequila from a bottle,
saw a shadow push into the moon,
which took on a planet’s gravitas,
losing its varicose craters, its

coin’s gloss.  Then its yellow
turned brown and red enough
to make a farmer look at it
as arable space. We enjoyed

the eclipse’s math and chance,
tried to focus binoculars
using a rooftop TV antenna
as approximative point.

We tried to shape our minds
around such fear and magic
as hunters/gatherers
may have felt. We failed.

We joked, and after midnight,
we opened doors of our several
abodes in a college-town stucco
hive.  We set clocks,

listened to household engines,
to music from vinyl undulating on a
turn-table like glassy harbor
water. Our dreams orbited desire.

Hans Ostrom 1979/2017

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Collector

The Collector

If you’re his wife, you’ve quit
asking why it all piles up out there
in the yard for everyone to see
from the highway.  Hubcaps from ghostly coupes.
Beer signs in neon cursive.  Coke machines,
cars, cars, cars.  You keep the house
and the backyard according to your principles.
You hate the mechanism in men
that drives them to love machinery.

If you’re his dog, you
urinate on tires encircling weeds.
You sniff varieties of rust,
chase squirrels until they disappear,
until you ram your hot wet nose
into angle iron; it all
makes the yard difficult.

Now, supposing you’re the younger son,
you don’t hate him yet.
Your friends think he’s a wealthy man,
a pirate maybe; they beg
their parents to let them come over,
Crawl through doorless cars, turn
cranks, patent imaginary uses

for useless contraptions.  You know
what it’s all for.  It’s there
to look at, to touch; it’s part
of a big landscape that whirls by
every day outside of School.

You’re the collector.  You can’t
help yourself. You’ll fix one thing
and trade it away for three things
you can’t fix.  The dog pisses on it all,
knocks over cans going after squirrels,
laps up rust-water.  You can’t
keep The neighbor-kids away. 

The younger boy, he follows you around
all day asking What’s this for?  What’s
this for?  You can’t understand why
your wife can’t understand why iron
and motors and axles are necessary,                                       
why strewn is the best way to keep
it all in order.

You stare right back at people
who drive by and scowl at your yard.
You know they’re driving junk.
Their houses are filled with junk that works.
You’ll get hold of it soon enough.

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

Balzac's Ghost and the Crucial Detail

She brought the wrong clothes to Paris,
which wasn’t as warm as imagination.
She borrowed a sweater and a coat
from me; also shoes, and the heavy socks
that made them fit.  My sweater, especially,
seemed to enjoy having her wear it
in cafes, brasseries, and markets. I

explained all this to Balzac’s ghost
at the writer’s home on Rue Raynouard.
Even though I wasn’t speaking French,
Balzac understood immediately. I went
on to observe that almost everyone
almost everywhere works hard and life
slips by so quickly and then all of a sudden

you’re a ghost listening to a tourist.
Yes, yes, said Balzac’s ghost, but
tell me, what color is the sweater she
borrowed from you? Green, I said.
That, he said, is today’s crucial detail.

Hans Ostrom

from The Coast Starlight: Collected Poems 1976-2006

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Puget Sound, Winter

Attend the winter light along the Sound.
Recall the rivers and the runs of fish?
The Earth agrees to fail; the year’s come down.

Most days the sun, per se, cannot be found
Except in willow leaves, low clouds, and mist
Attending Winter light along the Sound.

Maybe the salmon will again astound
Us with erotic, suicidal quests
Though Earth agrees to fail and years come down.

The young that work drink hard in this hard town.
Nation slaughters nation, no peace can last,
And Earth agrees to fail as years come down.

Shall we allow all fish to run aground
And Earth to die several unnatural deaths?
Attend the Winter light along the Sound.
The Earth agrees to fail. The year’s come down.

--Hans Ostrom/2015

White Curse

"As for now, it must be said that the elevation of the belief in being white
was not achieved through wine tastings and ice-cream socials but rather through
the pillaging of life, liberty, labor, and land." --Ta-Nehisi Coates, "Between the World
and Me," The Atlantic, July 4, 2015

Of course a given white person
can be right in the head
about America's white-supremacist
essence, which is fed by rivers from Hell.

Collectively though we white folks
always have an alibi, an out,
a turning away or an overlooking.
And until we lose all the excuses

and make things right for
good, America will stay
hexed by whiteness. And what looks
more like the spawn of a

curse than one of our worst--
this depraved President of the U.S.?

hans ostrom 2017

Friday, April 14, 2017

Detective in Uppsala

Somebody hired me to find out
what happens to light in Sweden.
Uppsala, specifically.  Hey, my
far-far was Swedish, I wanted to say
as I started the job. There was no
fooling the Swedes.  Every move I
made was American.  Even when I
was quiet, I was loud; and on time,
late. What I found out.

was light fills snow in Uppsala along about
January.  It will have you dreaming
in Bergman scenes.  In summer, it
leaves town for the lakes. It takes
the place of paint: some buildings
are an uncanny yellow, others eye-blue,
others as pale as the belly of a fish
in the Fyris River. I saw light

playing on birch bark, in gold hair,
black hair, brown hair. I have
a recording of light congratulating
raindrops.  The light in this
one apartment almost had me
sobbing, it was so beautiful.
(Private Eyes aren't supposed to cry.)
I praised light in crystal. I
tasted it in pastry.  That's
what I found out. That's my report.

* far far = grandfather
hans ostrom 2017

University Beneath a Flight Plan

One of us speaks of photosynthesis, another
of White Supremacist terror in the U.S.,
another of Hamlet, Act III. Some students
listen.  Others talk.  Others dream.

Airplanes overhead interrupt with
sustained blasts of noise.  Bombers.
Transports. Fighters.  The sound of
jet engines is not a discussion.

Obedient brick buildings shudder.
Our words dissolve.  We keep trying
to teach and learn for a few seconds
and then give up.  Wait.

The pilots note the campus, a point
of reference.  They yawn. The
navigators are bored.  And
the bombardiers pretend.

hans ostrom 1984/2017

Twisted Words

You're twisting my words. Thank you--
it feels good. You spirally wrought
ragamuffin into finfumagar: well done.
It had contortion coming.

And look what you did to
chirioscuro.  It is unrecognizable.
Obviously, you are not new
to wrenching words.

If you don't mind, I'd
like to keep mademoiselle
as is, for as is it's perfect:
a sound sculpture.

hans ostrom 2017

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


Scrupulously planned
and with international sanction,
an expedition discovers itself
dying on ice.

The group walks now
only to look for places
where it can walk. Each
adventurer's blood flows
down through unfeeling toes
toward an alleged sea.

In unrelenting wind and white-out
roaring from imaginary North,
air and ice become one. So do
sky and landscape, person
and expedition.

Speech becomes something
dreamed remotely--like fingers
or the word, survival. All
vocabulary accumulates
into a glacial prayer too
immense to bring out of the heart.

hans ostrom 2017

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Old Highway in Context

Well, I'll tell you, before the freeway
was there, there was the Old Highway.
Before that the old path was there, when
they used wagons. Before that,

Muhammad received Allah's words
and said, yes he said, and before
that, Adam and Eve were still around,
and before that, an asteroid

with water on it hit the Earth,
and before that the Earth and Moon
were the same ball.  Hell, I must've
drive that Old Highway a million times.

hans ostrom 2017

Friday, April 7, 2017

April: Suspect the River

It's not all poppies and blossoms. Death
knows the way to April, too. Colts die.
Arctic becomes wanton one last time.
A spouse leaves a spouse forever,
children go to war, and war goes to children.

No one will guarantee you won't die
in this naive month that smiles
between melancholy March and ruddy
May. Yes, you may do something insane,
such as long for bitter, brief, honest

December days. Or find birds bothersome,
hysterical. Sunlight isn't always easy.
The bright duty of flowers may wear on you.
I advise caution. Look at hills carefully.
Order more seeds than necessary, cash

on delivery.  And suspect the rising river.

hans ostrom 1987/2017

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Hanging Out with William Blake

It's possible to explain William Blake's writing.
I'm guilty of it myself.  I danced
with Tiriel in an article.  In  a refereed journal,
baby! I also convened with Blakeans
in Santa Cruz: ecstatic dancers, emergent
recluses, titans from research
universities,  Hippie refugees, Santa
Cruzeans, iconographers, and just
plain folks. Nothing against

Blakeans, but it seems more productive
to partake of Blake's texts
as if they formed a surreal festival.
Enjoy the music (I stole this idea
from A.E. Housman.) Put on a
costume yourself. Move into, with,
and against the crowd. In

the parlance of the Beats
(which they ripped off from
African Americans), Blake
is to be dug/not dug. Interpretation
and belief remain secondary.
Call the first if you think you
need it.  Avoid the second.

hans ostrom 2017

Lord of the Clouds

I am the Lord of the Clouds.
The low clouds.  Fog, really.
I am the Lord of the Fog!
Well, maybe more like  a minor swamp god.
However, I have aspirations
to rise from being a sentry for stagnant water.

hans ostrom 2017

Monday, March 27, 2017

Unfinished Reading

Books you don't finish reading
are like mountains you don't
finish climbing or comparisons
like this that don't seem quite right.

They are like acquaintances who
don't become friends. (This seems
better.) You have been told or
think you see what's up ahead,
but a weariness sets in. Let

the book be great for others,
you think.  Just leave me out of it. 
I've resigned from the reading of
The Fairie Queen, Clarissa, The
Castle of Crossed Destinies, 
The Charterhouse at Parma, 
countless portly mystery novels.
I pretended to finish Paradise
Lost but, as with the film,
The Titanic, I had guessed the ending.

I forced myself to climb Mann's
Magic Mountain. It took
decades, and it wasn't worth it.

When Sam Johnson (who
said of Paradise Lost, "No one
wished it longer") got tired
of a book, he threw it across
the room. Bolder than I,
he didn't resign from reading.
He fired the book.

hans ostrom 2017

Transformation: Military; or, As You Were

The Colonel said to the Corporal,
"As you were." The corporal
obeyed and turned back into
a mountain goat from Western
North America. In his mind,

the colonel saw the youthful
goat gamboling down and up
jagged bluffs.  "I shall miss him,"
said the colonel to himself--
"such a nimble fellow, and
that odd laugh!"

hans ostrom 2017

Prism Time

Having been convicted
by light, I was sentenced
to prism. A three-year
stretch in spectral stir,
just trying to survive
in fractured colors
and rainbowed lock-up.
It made me a cold,
hard, hallucinatory man.
Prism changes you.

hans ostrom 2017

Our Task

Working in heat
mean enough
to make grass snarl
and boulders ring,
I sometimes
imagined I could not
go on. Ridiculous:

I was as far from
the tortuous labor
slaves endured
for centuries as
I was from Neptune.

Their agony is
immured, is of
the bricks forming
the foundation
of this White Supremacist
monolith now adorned
at the top by
a bloated, cadaverous
cad, multiply evil.

Our task is
to wear down
White Supremacy
and wash away
the dust and grit
the project leaves,

hans ostrom 2017

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Kiruna: New Year's Eve

(December 1980)

At noon there was a murky soup of light,
which darkness drank.

Iron miners cruise in large
awkward old American cars
on Kiruna's frozen streets.
The custom is for each drunk
passenger to pay a driver
to be not drunk.

Samis sell bone-handled knives
and jewelry the color of
salmon eggs.

At the New Year's party, my Swedish
cousin and I watch shadows and smudges
of the original King Kong play
on a Finnish TV station. My cousin
is blonder than Fay Wray.

Fireworks outside seem stupid because
we didn't have to wait for darkness.
At 11:00 p.m. my cousin reports
that she always cries at the stroke
of the New Year. I'm prepared,
like a Swede, when tears travel
from her eyes like small droplets
of Sami pewter.  I'm impressed

when one tear lands in her
glass of Norwegian champagne.

1981/2017 Hans Ostrom

Return to Uncleton

Return to Uncleton

His uncle had named the town Uncleton,
served as mayor for fifty years.

Except to tidy up the dog’s grave,
he goes back only for the annual

Rust Festival. He owns snapshots
of the Rust Queens and their Oxidized Courts

from the last twenty years. The lake looks
different from before and smells.

His trousers slip off his buttocks,
and teenagers laugh, their goddamned

music thumping out of cars. He’s inherited
just a pinch of his uncle’s rage

but no property. The sun off the lake
makes him scowl. Where exactly is

the dog’s grave? He remembers how,
just a pup, the little bastard nipped him.

Uncleton, O Uncleton, I hate the way you
draw me back like english on a cue ball.

Copyright 2007/2017

The Semicolon in Modern Thought

The Semicolon in Modern Thought

Scholars disagree; they are disagreeable.
According to Jeb Nolocimis, Distinguished
Three-Legged Chair in Social Podiatry at
Bandsaw University, a hallucinating German
printer presided over the marriage of Period
and Comma in his shop, located in
Mainz-am-Rhein, circa 1498. However,
Dr. Lola Doirep of the Toots Institute
rejects Nolocimis's account as "surreal
historicism." She argues periodically
that the semicolon should be interpreted
semiotically first as inhabiting a liminal
zone vexed by indecision (stop or continue?)
and second as the right and left eyes
of an iconic emoticon, which more deeply
represents "winking post-modernity"
and "the rise of Cyber-cute." Meanwhile,
Argentinian-American poet Rexi Vivaldo,
in his long poem, "Stubby's Quest,"
alludes to the semicolon as "a sad
period's single tear, frozen in time
and space--a lament
for the mortality of clauses . . . ;"

Copyright 2008/2017 Hans Ostrom

Sunday, March 19, 2017

And the Feelings Thus Conjured

She's dipping her hands in the paint
that neuron networks manufacture.
She's rising from sleep and adorning
the darkness with bright looping
smears her fingertips eject.

The fog shows up, a loose collection
of gray blobs held inside a pale
amorphous balloon. There is a sound
of grinding, a sound of grinding,
a grinding, a sound. She says to no one,

"Sing with me: 'I am stuck on 
the balcony of REM sleep . . .!'"
We don't have to call it anything, you
know. We can just experience it
and the feelings thus conjured,

and live an entire lifetime
there in a mind-sponsored moment.

hans ostrom 2017

The Bees Are Baking

Bees inside my head wear gold aprons
because they're baking tiny tan cookies.
Of course they buzz.  It's how they talk.
They're speaking of their relationship
to time, of how they've been bees
again and again through the ages.

I ask them a question.  Horrified,
they vanish, leaving only the pollen
of their buzzing.  Oh, well.  Their
little bee kitchen smells warm.
I put all of their cookies, which taste
of you-guessed-it, on my tongue at
once because I'm suddenly quite hungry.

hans ostrom 2017

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Ladder People

Inside birch cones
live ladder people.

They build tiny
fires and carry

hand-made ladders
to cliffs, perching

there for nights
and days, singing

to each other,
letting blue moths

alight on their hands.
These people of

the birch cones
decorate their ladders

and themselves with
paint and bits of string.

Comes a light rain.
The ladder people descend.

Comes a stiff breeze,
and birch limbs toss.

Comes regret, comes
to us, and with it

arrives a deep wish to
hear the ladder people sing.

hans ostrom 2017

Underwater History

for Don Parkerson

They're there, our oceanic blunders.
Monitor and Merrimack. Spanish galleons.
And our depravities: slave ships.

Submarines like the Thrusher
could not cope with fathoms.

Weed and coral enhance remaining
shapes. A crucifix grows ocean hair.
A doubloon swells into a rock,
and a captain's iced skull lectures to
a school of fish. Diving down,

the historian cannot afford to haul
a text. Theories don't hold oxygen. He
monitors (and merrimacks) his every
breath like a meditating monk.

What comes clear in obscure depths
is the sluggishness of history,
the persistence with which events
get devoured: how a ship only gradually
slips off the reef to ultimate depths;
how accoutrements of empire
dissolve like common soda.

Floating there, the burden of breath
on his back in steel tanks, the historian
sees small sharks swim through
portholes of a destroyer.  The broadsides
of history went unheard here. Ocean,
imbued with oblivion's appetite,
accepted all defeated ships,
all wars and atrocities, settled or not.

hans ostrom 2017

The Revision

It's the end of the semester. The last essay is due
to me, professor. He, student, misses the final class
and struggles to my office afterwards. He stands
in the doorway, exhausted, and tells me his dream:

"Somehow you'd gotten hold of my essay
before I wanted to turn it in. You assigned
it a grade of the square-root of A. Your
only comment was Very suburban. Then I
stole back the essay before you had
recorded the grade.  I put an A in
the online grading system, next to my name,
and then I watched as the essay
revised itself, prose metamorphosis."

"I'll be darned," I say.  He gives me
the essay.  I look at it.  "Well," I say,
"you'd better put your name on it"

hans ostrom 2017

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


The syllables of this word seem
about to come undone.  Anyway,
dilapidated is best if you don't
have to live in it.  Sauntering
around the Sierra Nevada,
I liked seeing shacks that
had stopped lying to themselves.
They spoke highly of the failed,
exhausted miners who'd lived
in them. Weirder were

the cars that people had driven
or pushed into the manzanita brush.
Rust munches them even now.
Yes, and the quiet old imbibers
sitting at the Buckhorn bar,
weary feet in weary shoes
touching brass. These old folks
sipped from a shot glass; and waited.
And today I feel dilapidated.

hans ostrom 2017