Tuesday, September 26, 2017

"Dusk in Autumn," by Sara Teasdale


because we say because
   we try to know why,
to isolate a correlate,
   shun ones we see
to be against our picture
   frame of the world,
the notion of the world
   itself a frame,
an abstracted concrete
   rain-blur in the brain,
neurologically produced.

we speculate, and early we
   decide before
we know because we need
   to say because.

hans ostrom

Monday, September 25, 2017

Smug Shadow

When I was young, I didn't take
my shadow for granted much.
I looked for and at it. My preference
was that version roughly
proportional to my body. I felt

ludicrous when I saw the one
where my torso disappeared
and my legs grew to meet
my neck.  I hardly ever look
at my shadow now.  It just

never seemed to develop
into a major innovative
displacement of light. And
honestly, I'm tired of carrying
it around.  At the same time:

no shadow, no me.  It is
a kind of proof. Believe me,
my shadow's quite aware
that it's indispensable to my being.
It's a smug, insubstantial thing.

hans ostrom 2017

Friday, September 22, 2017

Anti-social non-media

holds promise. It might look like
sitting alone, phoneless and thinking,
which at least allows you
to imagine a country that has unfriended
racism, faved equity, pinned
knowledge, twanked twaddle
into truth, and stopped following.

As the media are mainly
a village of the damned celebrities,
it may be wise sometimes
to reduce the status of the spectacle
to that of an evening gnat that
passes by your eyes and ears-
a momentary minor whine.

hans ostrom 2017

Thursday, September 21, 2017

"Laughter," by Stephen Spender


You feel you've had
to try to fit
yourself into groups
and systems
like a hand-made part
in mass-produced machinery.

You know other people
must feel this too,
except there seems to be
less friction for
most of them, more
gliding function.

You play at envying
them to pretend
to chastise yourself.

You always think
you can be better
at joining. Yeah,
you think that.

Indeed you've archived
the many instances
of your desire to fit in,
and using "indeed" in
sentences is one of them.

You assemble conscise
internal reports
that tell of irascibility
and insufficiently
feigned adherence
to the contours of authority.

That is, times when
you were a pain in the ass,
when you wouldn't
knuckle under but
could have easily.
Should have? You
ask that now!

Down there in
dark, dank storage,
you feel judged
even by the rude
shelves and weary
boxes of your making.

Don't panic. Go upstairs
where the others are.
Mind your manners
and your mannerisms.

Chat and listen. Note
the desire to be somewhere
else but do not
act on it. The gathering
will dissolve soon
enough/not soon enough:
what's the difference?

The difference is you.

hans ostrom 2017

Party of One

A frost has settled on her smile.
Her words are crisp and cold.
You suspect she never dances,
and that's what you've been told.

You do not want to know her,
although her ways intrigue you.
Your you would not fit hers.
Her disdain would make you blue.

Think of all the times you tried
to get along, accommodate.
They were you've learned a waste of time,
like talking to an iron gate.

Maybe in fact you've lowered
your level of sociability
and must sanguinely admit
alone's good company.

hans ostrom 2017

"The Truly Great," by Stephen Spender

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Well, that's a gnarled word. Six consonants
invite tongue, teeth, larynx, lips, and roof
of mouth to a pronunciation party. Awkward!

Now, about those wood nymphs. I've invested
much time-capital in the woods, which
are always a going concern. I earned
a nymph-sighting. You'd think so, anyway.
But, no.  Just squirrels, rattlesnakes, deer . . . .

And then: nymphomaniac. That got flung
around last century. It seemed to have
expressed either male fantasies of a pulp-
fiction kind or pseudo-scientific, puritanical
indictments of women who had sex, if
they did, but that was their business,
so what the hell?  One ministry

of fishing flies goes by the nymph name,
meant to mimic gnats, mosquitoes, and other
tiny hatchers. You unhook the nymph
from the caught trout, and before you release
the fish back into flow, you think you know
what that frowning face suggests:
Is this sport-fishing really necessary?

That's the problem with mythology. Sooner
or later, it disappoints everybody, among others.

hans ostrom 2017

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Ballad of Mr. Who

A certain Mr. Who ordered
his where whated--why,
he wouldn't say.

He hired reliable whaters
trained in necessary hows,
which earned them pay.

When all the hows were done,
sad Mr. Who wished he'd kept
the whaters at bay.

Indeed he missed his otherwhere,
which his impatience had reduced
to dust of clay.

Old Who brooded about what-now.
He grew consumed with whys that led
his mind astray.

It will straggle back sometime,
somehow. Meanwhile now, Mr. Who,
he tries to pray.

hans ostrom 2017

A Quality of Cold in September

Cold no longer subtle,
as the shifts started in September
as we finished framing a house.
Hurry, get the roof on.

Cold now in September
as I clear the garden beds,
knocking loose a few last
golden potatoes and carrots
with sunburned indigo shoulders.

It's an insistent chill.  An overture
to a Winter suite. An advance-team
working for an immanent season
that bides its clime in gravitational
patterns.  A shirt under

a flannel work-shirt--then and now--
soaks up sweat & cold startles
the skin when wind rouses itself.
This is a ritual annoyance
that flavors wistful weariness
when I pick up a rake or a shovel.

hans ostrom 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

Concerning Me and a Concept Called You

Like you I was in space today,
moving around on what some call
Earth.  The Chinese in Mandarin
call it tu, with a diacritic mark
over the u, a parenthesis lying
on its back, looking up at the sky.

Evolution means the weather
can seem calibrated perfectly
to me (and you) and me (and you)
to the weather.  A peace treaty
signed by molecules. Can be
revoked at any time.

After work, I returned
to the circumstance by which
regardless of how much humans
learn, certain fundamental
mysteries will not yield,
such as what's the all about?--
this moving around on a
matter-ball that spins and tilts
and orbits and has an indigestive core
of molten stuff.

hans ostrom 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

"The Brain is Wider Than the Sky," by Emily Dickinson

The Mother of All Poems

When I think about writing the mother
of all poems that is to say a big serious
poem about my mother, I think about
the poem I wrote, in Karl Shapiro's class,
about how a piano contains all notes,
all potential melodies, etc., in some kind
of ideal way. And after I read it, Shapiro
said to the class, "D.H. Lawrence wrote
a poem about a piano, but it was really
about his mother; he was in love with
her." I found the comment unhelpful,

plus suggestive of incest. Oh, well:
workshops. I also think of my mother
and her low tolerance for nonsense,
such as puppets and murderers.  She
sat on the jury that convicted serial
killer Larry Lord Motherwell (ahem),
which was the name he, Frank
Eugene Caventer, gave himself,
a nom de meurtrier.

Ma wanted to make sure Motherwell
got the gas chamber, and she never forgave
the one juror who prevented that.
Anyway, I really don't feel like writing
an ambitious poem about my mother.
It seems like too much work for too
little gain, and I don't know--
Freud, Shapiro, and millions of
other people have kind of ruined
the subject for me.  My mother liked
to drink Hamm's beer out of the can.

hans ostrom 2017

Crop-Burning, Kansas

Dusk, and we're moving on I-35
through Kansas.  West of us, green
land dissolves into dissolving
available light. Sky flares

at the horizon. East of us,
flames razor yellow patterns
on black, burning undulating
land. In the car talking,

we weave a makeshift fabric
of family lore, wounds and
resentments, hilarities. One
of us glances ahead through

the windshield: rear lights
of cars burn hot and red
like lit cigarette tips.
Green land fades altogether.

Red sky goes pink, goes gray.

Night will arrive before Wichita
does. We're not anywhere very long.

hans ostrom 2017

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

It's 1954 and Emmett Kelly remembers

the Hartford, Connecticut, circus fire,
1944: the big tent went up,

and people panicked like animals,
but the big cats got strangely calm.

The famous clown rushed from
the small dressing-tent in makeup,

managed more authority than a cop
because a clown's not supposed

to speak, so when he spoke,
the wild eyed customers listened.

They let him save their lives
with a frown.  Back in his tent,

he said to Willie in the mirror,
"No show tonight. No show

in Clown Alley."  Other clowns
entered, hysterical, said who'd lived,

who hadn't. (168 hadn't.)
"You were wonderful," they told Emmett,

who had removed half of Willie's face.
As Kelly he shrugged. "I did what I could."

Now in 1954, Madison Square Garden,
Emmett's put on half of Willie's face.

He feels weary.  He tells an interviewer,
"Clowning is nothing you can study for."

hans ostrom 2017

Transformation: Dementia

He remembers language
but not his memory. He speaks
of what he sees. He scratches
his knees. A straggling memory
wanders by, covered with soot
from a burnt whole life.

To this memory he says hello.
Does not recall why he said
hello. Does not recall that
he said hello. He doesn't
remember scratching his knees.
He speaks. He sees. He listens
to speaking he speaks. It does
not interest him. This does:
An aroma. Of . . .?

He falls asleep in front of
what he sees. Outside of his sleep,
we speak of what we remember
of his memory using some of
the language he used to recall.

hans ostrom 2017

"Into the Strenuous Briefness," by e.e. cummings

Friday, September 8, 2017

Crow Travel

Just sitting outside in search of
fresh air, not looking for them:
a couple hundred crows
flying southeast across a chalk sky.

Were they coming from the famous
crow compound and annual banquet
on Whidbey Island?  Hell, I
didn't know.  Crows don't

fly in formation, not like those
fascist geese. In fact, they looked
like they'd been in a weed cafe
in Amsterdam or something--

just kind of flap-sauntering.
They flew in two groups.
Between the intervals, a solitary
crow flew from the same

direction, landed on a tree,
and got loud, as if to say,
"I didn't want to go with y'all
anyway!" Borderline personality.

I don't think it was migration.
More like they were off to
an academic crow conference
or a big wedding. Crows

just look like they have a better
handle on this reality thing.
They're not all out of control
and self-destructive like us.

hans ostrom 2017

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Velton's Testimony

Judge (said Velton), I submit
that yellow Lombardy poplar
leaves staggering down the breeze
from the trees recall butterflies:
that peculiar aerodynamic
jaggedry.  May it please the court,
such impressionistic reports
on natural scenes are worthless
and thus desirable in any age
of frenzied valuation, addictive
greed, and amphetamined commerce.

hans ostrom 2017

Velton Stopped Cheering

Velton stopped cheering
at football games and football
matches when he realized
that no one could hear him
above the noise.

hans ostrom 2017

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

"Life," by James Weldon Johnson

This Fall, White Supremacy Blooms

The forests are ablaze, the sun is red,
and a light snow of ash falls. White
Supremacy blooms again, giving off
its acrid odor, its menacing stench.

More than a few White college
students fully feel the old power
their forebears wielded like a scythe.
In front of Black professors (where

there are any), they yawn, stretch,
roll eyes, pick matter from their hair,
their eyes, their ears.  They savor
the insolence of re-authorization.

They get drunk and yell, "I am
the One Per Cent!" and offer
other triumphalist biscuits
to the air, which they own.

Not that they ever
were going to change, but
now any pressure to know or care,
to arise from racist sloth,

has dissipated like the particles
from scorched trees.
An old White bloated Hitler
knockoff at the American helm

massages the radioactive core
of the country and his Party,
Dixiecrats in drag. So White
students are as free as ever

to treat learning as a running
joke, to swagger, to luxuriate
in the shade of official hatred
behind the citadel walls. Its their

choice. It's always been their choice.

hans ostrom 2017

"George Crabbe," by Edwin Arlington Robinson.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

"Summer Silence," by e.e. cummings

"Practice Safe Poetry," by Hans Ostrom

Ceremonial Headdress

I wore a ceremonial headdress
of my own design
to the party. No one else
wore one--and, truly,

I wasn't sure how many
of them were worthy of such
a noble item of clothing.
Anyway, let's just say

their definition of
"casual attire" differs
substantially from mine.
Good day to you.

hans ostrom 2017