Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Dialectic

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 and 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

Expedition

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