Sunday, October 10, 2021

Midday

(considering Arkady Plastov's 
painting, "Midday," 1961, Russian
Museum, St. Petersburg)

This view will never tell me
what's between the woman and man--
love? Siblings? Friends? It makes me
feel heat lean into their backs

as they lean over that dark wood trough.
Only summer light infuses weeds and
grass this way, gives  them  a furnace
glow. A swooning heat of dreams.

She'd love to bathe, pats her head with
water with her right hand, cups some
in her left. He wants to drink. In
weeds the motorcycle's lean and red,

a bulbous lamp. I say this is a work-
break and think of midday respite
from work in the Sierra. If I stood
with them, I'd used both hands

to cool my face, my neck. I see 
bugs in that grass, youth in those
backs. After the snarl of that bike
fades, I'll slip into the painting,

watch trough-surface tremble,
settle, feel the waterlogged wood,
hear the hiss of grass, feel
sorrow, look for shade. 


hans ostrom 2021

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Fires in the Pacific West

Blue wood smoke from wildfires
100 miles away choked the copse.

A morose old traveler sat down 
in it beside a pond. He thought At

least the pond's still here. As was
his fear for everything. An

hallucinated frog lifted its head
from the smoke-scummed water

level, said Nothing you will ever
write, say, do, or think will change

this world, okay? The old man
had always loved amphibians,

the great adapters. He asked Should
I stop caring, then?  But the frog

had absented its green mirage, 
and so: alone, talking in the woods.

Even if you try to be loud, your
voice sounds less than the tiny

ratchet-grind of one grasshopper
leaping. Yes, no more caring today.

Only walking. To home. If it's still
there. If not, more walking. 


hans ostrom 2021

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Talking at Night

Maybe you're high, maybe not.
Either way, you're half of 
a conversation that grows
in the night. A seed of chit-
chat roars into a jungle 
of topics, blather, laughter,
and--for this neighborhood,
anyway--deep questions.

You wonder, at the end of 
night, what these are for,
these night talks. Nothing's
bought or sold, no politics
of the moment, name-dropping,
weather, or work. Nor set stories,
thank god. Just talk--

rare these days, these days
when words get nailed to 
walls, kidnapped, suffocated
by intent ignorance, shot dead. 
Just talk, easy as a summer tide.



hans ostrom 2021

Breathing in Blue Lunar Light

He had intended 
to seize the day.
Then night came.
Day slipped away.
He was relieved. 

Night seized him. 
Hot winds and nausea. 
He didn't believe what
he knew or know
what he believed.

Waking, midnight, he
saw blue lunar light
that mellowed air,
turned worries  slight.
He breathed. And breathed. 


hans ostrom 2021


Monday, September 20, 2021

Wright Park

In Tacoma the old man
crossing Wright Park
will not use a path
and ignores the statue

of Schiller, a German
poet who never visited
Tacoma--his loss. I can't

find a verb to say what 
the old man does as he 
goes up the slope
to the conservatory. It is

his own peculiar old
white-haired way of walking,
wearing a blue windbreaker
on a hot afternoon. Perfect

verbs and muscular 
buttocks belong to the young.
A woman in orange shoes
floats past him. Her profile

is regal. Now someone full
of Jesus moves through the park
preaching to purple-eyed drunks.
Acorns drop like hail pellets.
Three-year-old roll down a
slope, bedazzled, giggling.

The old man smile at this,
arrives at the conservatory,
cough and spits. 


hans ostrom 2021

Friday, September 3, 2021

Fear Tonight

Tomorrow I'll be ready
to attack the tasks at hand,
jaw set, mind sure.
Tonight I will be frightened.

Tomorrow I would gladly
board a submarine, float
under darkness, sounding depths,
negotiating canyons.

Tonight under a single lamp,
all the hands of fear flutter
like a deck of cards cast
overboard from a broken boat. 


hans ostrom 2021

Sunday, August 29, 2021

As We Build

Two dime-sized yellow-green butterflies
copulate on a pine board we
nailed at an angle to brace a partition. 

They're connected like duelists
about to pace: one board's edge,
the other perpendicular on the broader

plane. Their antennae do not so much
as twitch: wings rigid as steel, eyes
like polished obsidian pebbles, placidly

glazed. Amid slamming hammer blows,
electric saw scream, and sawdust storm,
they're lost in the depth and breadth 

of regeneration. As we raise another wall,
it's sap-wet ribs seem to bless with shadows
in a geometric pattern these two insects

abstracted in their act and moment. Around
us: loafs of Sierra Nevada mountains,
dark green with pines and firs. Canyon air

is thick with cicadas, dragonflies, bees, gnats,
and other bugs--corpuscles of energy whose
names I'll never know. Swollen knuckles

of thunderhead fists crowd an eastern sky.
There's a humid, thick, barely audible humming
of summer's abundance, of bright boulders

ringing with heat, a hum of hot southern air,
of soaked clouds about to blow up. Hammering
stops, saw stops: we break for water. The 

procreating butterflies relax. Their four 
antennae shift slightly as if nudged by breath
of a whisper. They shake the drowse 

of loving death from their rejuvenated
wings, rise and fly and depart this half-framed
human dwelling, and they join the inflamed air. 


circa 1981/2021 hans ostrom

Friday, August 27, 2021

Funeral in Los Angeles

Cancer took her quickly. Now
cars of her procession
move like dark cells through
traffic of the Los Angeles Freeway,
a daily purgatory.

A silver military jet
becomes a needle of glare 
that tugs a thread of chalky
vapor. The plane cruises
above faraway suede hills
well ahead of its sound.

And the family in its sealed,
air conditioned autos is driven
ahead of understanding.

A lavender dolphin, anchored
like a dirigible above a used-car
lot, smirks as they pass.

Her daughter runs a finger over
the upholstery. She thinks,
"It's just upholstery."
And at the cemetery, too,
everything has become
only what it is: asphalt, grass,
trees, people--the landscape
of a children's book.

Where they bury her,
upright headstones are forbidden.
Marble, granite, and brass must
be inlaid so tractor mowers
may keep grass immaculate.

Beneath a canopy near the dug
grave, the daughter looks toward
those old brown distant hills.
She wonders--as her relatives
whisper quietly and cry--why
the world seems to have been 
completely prepared for
the death of her mother. 


circa 1979/2021 hans ostrom


Thursday, August 26, 2021

Lane Change

Late night in a Central Valley
California city, where farm air
sniffs neon. Blacktop, moist after
rain, gleams. Phosphorescent lamps
and traffic signals hang in cheery
gloom. Everybody's left the party.

I drift the silver-green Chevy
over to a lane for 
       LEFT OR U TURN ONLY and
stop.

A Ford rolls up in another lane,
obeys a red light, engine grumbling
in that Ford way. (This happened
long ago, when people befriended cars
and trucks.) I see the mouth

of the driver, a young woman, singing
the song my radio's singing. (We used
car radios then.) She turns her head
and, singing, smiles through two windows,
turns back and sees
        GREEN
and off with an automatic-transmission
(such things mattered then)
start goes her gunned Mustang
(me in my Camaro), wheels spitting
water and grit--gone. Just gone. Now
I sing the song. It liked her 
better. I murder it. The

         RED
light winks into a green arrow.
How lovely, an Imagist poem. 
Awake, the Camaro lurches,
goes through engine-crescendos
as I manage gas pedal brake pedal
clutch pedal stick-shift steering & a certain
sad projection of Camaro cool . . .

. . . to follow the Ford would have
been just plain wrong. "On a number
of levels," as the academics (I was 
trying to become one) used to say
in that former farm-town that grows
research. Learning her name, hearing
her voice in talk and song, inducing
her laughter--yes, a belly laugh--. . .

not wrong. Not possible. I turn
not around but sufficiently LEFT
as never to see the Ford the woman
again, at least according to my poet's
sense of statistical probability (everyone
but me carried a thick calculator then).

Sad and lonely, I stride from car
to bad buggy bungalow door and say
No not sad and lonely but alive and
the washed air smells fine and I might
have a glass of red wine.


hans ostrom circa 1975/2021



She Returns to the Farm

          (with memories of Tom Rickman)


It is raining. There are apples.
It is. There are. Apples, rain, mud,
land. Land not built on. Yet. At 
night, such quiet, much quiet,
too much . . . .

The reckless ones died early.
The cautious ones grew old and died.
The orchard grew into a farm, 
which grew into an operation. 

Thus orchard, a young grafted
tree,  became a mature
producer. Which became an
autonomous hybrid banyan/apple
tree walking around the place,
planting itself. She
does/doesn't understand. 

It is raining. There are apples.
The money is good. She can't stay. 


hans ostrom 2021

Friday, August 20, 2021

Jealous Desert

walking in a desert
looking for, smelling for,
water, honey, and home--

the desert is home--
look, there's a bone
that once was part

of one who walked
here: here goes on
as it went even when

water covered it.
walking the desert.
it is jealous of water. 



hans ostrom 2021

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Ancestry

 1

My name, pattern of nucleic
acids, and documentation become
a dried leaf glued to
a petrified tree in a fractal forest.

2

The earlier the photograph,
the harder the faces, the darker
the clothes. Work, grief, God,
and fear sculpted these faces. 

3

One cannot behold the soupy
sea of ancestry and still cling
to racism and sad notions
of superiority. A trillion 
accidents set against social
calamity--not "bloodlines"--
birthed each of us. Every one
of us wailed when air first
thumped us in the lungs.

4

Everybody's common. The 
rest is a confidence game.

5

A distant relation died 
attacking a castle. He's buried
in digitized public records.
Genealogists visit his grave.
It's nothing personal. 

6
I have to override the program,
which tells me a relation was 
too young to be a mother. That's 
rape for you. 

7
Genealogy's a pageant of 
folly, a carnival of silence, an
absurdity of great meaning, 
a permanent promise of connection.

8
Sooner or later, our names
become unintended jokes.

9
People travel and travel and
travel. Meanwhile, clever ones
convince them that dreams of
belonging to a special group
are real. Nation, tribe, empire--
that sort of thing. 

10

Humanity is composed 
of women and certain
hangers on. 

11

We're all cousins.

12

On average, each extended
family includes one genealogist 
who insists on boring everyone
with dates, places, and photos. 
In my family, I am he. 





Mountain Saloon

Darkness in daylight and a sweet
whiskey smell said Hey
to six-year-old me when
my Aunt Nevada opened the door

to the Buckhorn saloon. I
registered a glowing brass
pipe running the length
of a dark varnished bar,

down where feet are. 
An altar of bottles--brown,
clear, green--gathered itself
around a long mirror.

An an antlered deer's head
eyed me. Aunt went back
to get broom, bucket, and mop.
She and Uncle owned the bar. 

After dinner, my dad freshly
showered would fall asleep 
in a chair before going to the
second job: pouring drinks

at this place. Tending bar. 
Caves, tombs, hideouts, 
temples, chapels, dens of
equity, harbors, imagined

carnivals of sex and power:
later I'd learn what dark bars
could become--neon glowing
outside, light in darkness. 


hans ostrom 2021