Wednesday, August 30, 2017


("The flight of the Kildeer is strong and rapid, and is at times protracted to a great distance. It skims quite low over the ground, or plays at a great height in the air, particularly during the love season, when you may see these birds performing all sorts of evolutions on wing."

Kildeers, about the size of flickers,
screamed across the pasture, summers.
Their shrieks were very fine, accomplished,
their low, straight routes efficient.

Thank God I didn't try to make them
symbolize or teach: what a bore,
a lugubrious Wordsworthian chore. 
No. Just the kildeers, fast fliers,

loud criers, going fast from copse
of oaks to stand of pines. 

hans ostrom 2017

Monday, August 21, 2017

America, Here's the Package

Here's the package: the hair looks
like a collapsed straw pompadour,
the skin like faded naugahyde. The
vocabulary goes zero to sixty and
stops, the attention span the same
in seconds. He can't even fake
empathy.  Is delighted to be ignorant
of history, science, economics, politics,
music, art, psychology, law, philosophy.

The White Supremacist road begins
and ends in an abyss of willful ignorance.

It's as if he played Monopoly instead
of learning even the most basic of
human things. He's witless, petty,
dull, and unctuous  Couldn't plan a sneeze
after inhaling pepper. Shouldn't
even be president of his local
hate group.  Consider how many
White folks still think he's all
right, and that will tell you where we are.

hans ostrom 2017

Phone Nightspot

Weird night: went to this small
dark bistro, got inside--no one there
but a bartender texting on her phone.

The tables were empty except
for mobile phones, some propped,
some lying flat, two or three or

four per table.  One table had just
one phone--sad. I put my phone
on that table so the two could

get to know each other. Went
to the bar, ordered a bourbon,
and said to the woman,

"Start a tab, please, and I'm
buying a round for them all."
Her look soured. The phones

started to buzz, ring, sing,
jangle, and melodize. I said,
"Cheers," and lifted my glass.

hans ostrom 2017

"The Puppet Player, " by Angelina Weld Grimké

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