Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Our Grandest Illusion

Even if what we know is incorrect,
and most of it is, 
how could it not be, 
it's knowledge: it's in there,
camped in memory, sending
smoke signals from box canyons,
tramping around neuron trails. 

The grandest illusion of all,
knowledge, freeze-dried 
in old books, hoarded like grain
and gunpowder in electronic
forts, marbled into our speech
and memories, alive in lore,
legend, lies, logos, ethos,
eros, and pathos. Still,

add it all up, and it's just 
a single torch held up
against abysmal black
darkness in a forest
no one's yet named on
one of a trillion planets. 

The one and the zero 
in binary strings: we know
everything, we know nothing,
a lot, a little bit, maybe, hard
to say, wait and see. You know?

hans ostrom 2021

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Empire, Why Will You?

Will you invade again, Empire?
To show your Empire license
hasn't expired? Send troops,
send planes and drones with
bombs, ready the rockets
and missiles, prepare to unleash
empirical Hell? Again? 

We know the arguments against.
The moral, the political,
and the historical. Today
I'm thinking of the emotional. 
Dead children. Dead everyone.
Terrorized families. Blasted homes.
No place to go, no water
to drink, no hope, no food. 

And the practical. When you
can trade for and buy
treasure, when your people
have plenty, when you can
defend yourself a hundred
times over, when your people
are sick of war and just
want to live and work and
love, when your power's

already super, why perform this
depraved stupidity again?
Is it out of some sick habit?
Some cultural addiction?
To what end? I guess if I have
to task the question, then
I'm not empire material. 
Although I live in one of several.

hans ostrom 2021

Wanting Nothing Is Impossible

 At the Art Institute, I saw someone

I'd met professionally a while back.

We talked easily enough.  I offered

to buy us something to eat, museum café.

She accepted. Younger than I, she'd

lived a lot already.  I sensed she was

broke— nothing obvious, just intuition.

With coffee and food, we talked

more.  I said I was

glad we had run into each other.

It was true.  Happenstance

had pleased me.  Her

face changed.  Maybe apparitions 

of men she’d known had  appeared

around the table.  Maybe she couldn’t

recall a single social interaction

in which someone but especially

men had not seemed

to want too much from her.

I sensed she was broke.  I saw she

thought she saw me  wanting something.

It’s true.  I wanted her to finish her

coffee and say, “Nice to see you,”

and leave.  I wanted to say,


“Nice to see you,” and leave.

We said phrases like that.  Her

face kept its wariness.   Her

experience had put her on alert.

We left the café and parted.

Can the pronoun “he” ever

want nothing from the pronoun “her”?

Only in theory.  My acquaintance

did not live in theory.  Her life

 was composed of constant practice.

Insistent apparitions had sat at table.

I sensed she was broke.  Now I hope

that she’s not broke, that she’s

better and well. Well, when I think

of her that day, I feel  briefly sad for

simple social moves quickly

complex in Chicago, not to mention

everywhere.  I am a ghost at

a café table in the Art Institute

looking at her guarded face.  I want

to say, “I don’t want anything.  Just

enjoy the coffee, the food, the rest.”

Her face says, “If you say that,

then you do want something.  You

want me to believe you, and believe the rest.”

hans ostrom 1990/2021

Monday, April 5, 2021

Sunshine and Shadow

 "Surely there was a time I might have trod

The sunlit heights . . ." --Oscar Wilde, "Helas"

One day you're running in sunshine,
the next just walking in it, 
a little weary. The day after that,
you're walking in shade,
more tired still. And the next:
sitting in shadows. Then, well,
you become a shadow. People
come running and strolling by
in bright light. They glance your way
and don't see anything.

hans ostrom 2021

Friday, April 2, 2021

Must We Fall in Love?

Eve and colleague Adam

tripped over an apple and fell.

A snake smirked. I myself

have fallen in love

after stumbling over

a load of infatuation,

or bumbling through

a course of social

obstacles: slapstick

Casanova. This falling

in love sounds so fateful,

injurious, actionable--

beset by heartfelt

soreness, bruised feelings,

ego deflation. We're liable

to dislike it. The idea of love

sells tickets and products

and rosy futures: thus are

we encouraged to take

risks, show caution the door.

Well, we might think of

leaning in love, after a

light repast and several

laughs. Or rolling in love,

weaving like in-line

skaters near the beach,

glad and balanced.

Yes I know it's counter-

cultural, but what about a

steady climb into love?

One foot after another?

No, I guess not. Passion's

ever the fashion. Good luck.

hans ostrom 2021

Thursday, April 1, 2021

What the Shadow Cat Said

Sunlight hits a narrow
bookshelf, shapes
a perfect cat shadow--
ears and legs and all.

This cat doesn't move.
Its assumed eyes stare.
Its supposed mouth opens
to accuse perception

of being little more
than a collage of simulations,
reactions to effects, habits
of getting it wrong. 

And who am I, 
watching the wall,
behind the books, to
contradict a shadow cat?

hans ostrom 2021

Friday, March 26, 2021

And Hope for the Best

okay, I never starved
and I was white not black
in America

but I've been alarmed
ever since I learned
life ends with death.

then came pageants
of cruelty,
the always prospect

of atomic 
annihilation, and
white kids groomed

by their stupid
parents to hate black
kids--for starters;

a head-on collision
with environmental
doom, sadists

in the workplace.
okay, I've had it good--
for starters; but

still, no wonder
I'm jumpy, reclusive,
bookish, and not

just tired but
existentially weary;
I'm talking old

dog tired. no bombs,
missiles, store
massacres, floods,

fires, new plagues,
attacks on black friends
locally today, so

okay, call it good,
do something for someone,
then grab a nap

and hope for the best
and hope for the best
and hope for the best.

hans ostrom

Strange Feeling

(after listening to Duke Ellington's
"Strange Feeling")

Half the people
who ever insulted
me are dead.

That makes me
feel strange for ever
caring what they said.

hans ostrom 2021

Short Ideas


at work she endured
petty tyrants with
pinched faces. back

home, her young son
said, "Walt Disney had a
lot of short ideas."

She laughed and images
of those faces
surely faded.

hans ostrom 2021

The Skipper

on a fishing boat
all day, you feel time
dissolve in water.

offbeat swells shrug
the craft. sun glare
stuns. you sense

the sea's in touch
with forever,
a distant cousin.

headed back to port,
you try to remind
yourself you're you.

gulls shriek, nobody
talks, land magnets
the boat close.

wobbly on a dock,
you again accept
your position: the

skipper of your life.

hans ostrom 2021

Wednesday, March 24, 2021


When English, just coltish,
was trotting around medieval isles,
a hoby was a small, busy horse
that went nowhere. Ah, then
came the hobbyhorse, a child's
plaything, wicker or wood.
Another horse that went nowhere--
and anywhere in the kid's mind.

Look: we need more hobbies,
as we wait for the revolution
we want or dread. Hobbies 
instead of screeching hateful
things, badgering strangers,
firing guns, or guzzling swill
brewed by cults and hustlers.

Yep, carve wood, stitch lace,
raise ancient cars from the tomb
of rust, brood over chess, thump
guitars or keyboards, water
family trees, horde shoe-horns.

More stuff we do should go 
nowhere like a hoby. There's
nowhere to go anyway. We're
just here, Earth. Keep it tidy,
settle in, find something pleasant
about which to obsess
like that aunt of yours who
lived in a hive of Elvisiana.
In your hobby hide from
your worst self, advertisers,
and those who wish no one well. 

hans ostrom 2021

Friday, March 19, 2021

Sometimes You Meet a Very Good Tree

A palm tree, a bit taller than a person:
thick brown-gray hair covers its
trunk, coarse as a horse's mane,
and bark grows in widely spaced
 pieces that curve up and out
in baroque arcs. The trunk is

narrow at the hips, wide at
the chest--like a torch: and it
flames with green fronds. 

Yes, I'm standing there,
rubbing palm hair between
my fingers, starring up,
smiling. This is a tree 
on a mission to amuse
itself. And me. 

hans ostrom 2021

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Velton Stopped Cheering


Velton stopped cheering

at football games

and football

matches when he realized

that no one heard him

above the noise

and so a stadium of silence

rose in his mind

a space that applauded

his separateness, his

sense of Velton himself

sitting, standing, in a crowd,

but not of the crowd,

no not of the crowd. 

hans ostrom 2021