Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Don't Know, Do Know


Don't Know, Do Know

i don't know why. i
do know why. i do,
i don't, know why.

why, no, i don't
know why. i know
why i don't know

why and don't
know why
i know. i don't,

i do, and i
don't know how
it is for you.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Lemon Harangue


Lemon Harangue

hey, it's hard to do
anything. yeah, but
you have to try. hell,
we all start out as

squirming blobs of
flesh and then
get push-pushed
to join reality.

later we get
volunteered to
join this mess,
society. with

a system like
this, who needs
chaos? for
today, stop

yourself, although
it's a good word,

do what you can,
if you can, and
know that doing
anything is hard.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Dramatic Noise


Dramatic Noise

in the next motel
room, someone's
talking, with volume,
on a telephone.

words get stripped
of their wordness
as they pass through
stuccoed sheet rock.

so what i
hear sounds like
the intense language
of a huge insect

that is related
to a small
electric drill.
it's fascinating.

there's drama
in this noise.
hearing the words
would diminish

that. the noise can
be an argument
about anything.
i'm sad when

the sound stops
and the walls
of the room
i am in begin

to advance on
me, flashing their badges
of splendid, cheap
mass-produced art.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Sydney Greenstreet's Younger Days


Sydney Greenstreet's Younger Days

today i heard
a woman say
of sydney greenstreet:

"in his younger days,
he was probably
light on his feet."

Link: "The Sydney Greenstreet Blues," by Richard Brautigan

poem copyright Hans Ostrom 2011

Wood on Water


Wood on Water

i now set this out
on waters of
Electronic Ocean

like a small
piece of wood--
white pine

i don't know
where it will go
except anywhere

it's particular
now--of particles

it could end up
being scanned by
an entity in

another galaxy,
a disappointed

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Far Away and Above


Far Away and Above

If you don't have any
expectations, everything's
a surprise, and the crowd
of disappointments gets
thinned considerably.

So I'm using a day
off as a day off
from expectation.

Just breathing
is an accomplishment--
vital, in fact.

Far away and above,
a light airplane
buzzes in the
ear of the sky.
I hadn't
expected that.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

"Intellect," by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Love Poem Put Together Before Reading Guidelines for Assembly


Love Poem Put Together Before Reading Guidelines for Assembly

I love you very mulch. I mean much. I like
the way your berries ripen on your vines, baby,
and I don't mean literally.

I like your skin. Suddenly that doesn't
sound like a compliment.

Hey, the connection between laughter
and sexual attraction is something
I've often wanted to discuss with
strangers I'm standing in line with--
your thoughts?  Words can possibly

express how I feel about for you,
I mean feel about you. That's
what words do--they feel about
and then they express. Like:

I love you! Look how easy that was.
I vow to you that I will bake you an apple pie
as diligently as I would bake it for anybody
else.  But to me, you're not anybody else,

okay?  I wrap this poem up for you now.
Please take it. I don't want it back.  I'm
so fond of you I'd like to fondle you
right away.  In other words, totally
in love with you: me.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Monday, November 21, 2011

Michelle Alexander: Is Mass Incarceration the New Jim Crow?

boxing poets

most people don't think
about poets. no reason to.
so many more urgent matters
to attend to.

some people who do think
about poets like to box
them up. this

poet's in the small-press
box, that one's in the gilded
box of anthologized fame,
this one is political, that
one performs, this one's
of the street, that one
from the colleges, this one
is Great, that one must
not be thought of as Great.

some boxes, history
made. we can keep
some of those, let others
of them go. we'll use
our judgment, our
experience. we mustn't
not own up to history--
that is the main thing.

the rest of the boxes,
we can throw out. a
person either writes
poetry, or doesn't,
and the most recent poem
is the kind of poetry
the person writes.

poems don't go to
college or teach there.
they don't drink wine
or work as fry-cooks or
go to war or lie down
for peace and get kicked.

of course, many poets
are only too eager to
jump in a box or push
another poet in a box
because poets are just as
stupid as other people
and often more so.

if you're a poet and
are eager to categorize
yourself and other poets,
you probably need to
settle down.

write a poem. or don't.
read one. or don't.

start from there. work
your way forward. take
your time. surprise yourself.

try this: write one word.
what kind of poet does that
word make you? really?

Copyright Hans Ostrom

which doesn't rule

if you feel worse
about yourself after
you go to your job
but are still glad you
have a job, then in
some countries, you're
in the majority, which
doesn't rule.

if you have no hope
of getting a job
you like, or even
a job, then in
some countries,
you're in the majority,
which doesn't rule.

if you're an american
and have no control over
what america does, then
you're in the majority,
which doesn't rule,
and you are a citizen
of a super-power, an
empire, so you do
and don't rule.

if you don't believe
one goddamned word
about your place-of-work's
credo, mission statement,
bosses' rap, etc., you
probably haven't yet
lost all your faculties
of discernment, and
you're in the majority,
which doesn't rule.

if you've thought about
it carefully and decided
your life has no discernible
purpose except to keep
itself going and get
enough cash and things
to keep you and yours
going, you are experiencing
one form of the modern
condition, and things
could be a lot worse,
and in some regions
you're in the majority,
which doesn't rule.

if you think another
group of people besides
the groups you are in
rules, then you are correct,
probably, and you are
in the majority, which
doesn't rule.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

the attempt becomes a gesture

the attempt becomes a gesture

the man wearing a thin sweatshirt
and no hat stands at an uncovered
bus stop in freezing rain. he isn't me.

he's trying to light a cigarette. his
attempt becomes a gesture--
ludicrous but noble, less than
tragic but not bad at all.

he's inside whatever being alive
is for him, and i'm inside what
being alive is to me. i see him
from a warm place out of the weather.

if i were like jesus i'd go to the
man and perform a miracle--
like getting that cigarette lit,
or giving him money,
or giving him my parka, or
embracing him. he might
like all of that. except for
the embrace. he might
bite my nose off for that.

i don't do any of these things,
because it's easier not to,
and it's acceptable that i
think i'm not his keeper.

at moments like these, i
think of Bukowski,
who--i gather from his
words, i never knew
the man--thought like
jesus sometimes, i mean
with a similar toughness.
tough on everybody--
including, let's say especially,
the reflective, ignoble fuckers in
warm parkas out of the

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

in the wheel

in the wheel

my Aunt Nevada kept a chipmunk
in a cage. it got fatter than other
chipmunks even though it ran
in its little wire wheel. we kids,

we liked watching the chipmunk
eat and run. that chipmunk is nothing
but molecules recycled now. i thought
of it today. at home, i know the truth

and value of being no one and nobody.
detachment. then i go out there again,
and one way or another, i get suckered
into running inside the wheel.

call it ambition, work ethic, pride,
fear, making a living, compulsion,
whatever. it's a wheel. i think the big
difference is the chipmunk

knew it wasn't going anywhere. it
saw that clearly. this running and
going and wanting credit for running,
they're worse than the Sisyphus-deal.

he had a task. he went somewhere.
he didn't want or seek approval.
how many billions of us are stuck
in the wheel? hell, i have it good.

i know that. but
it's a wheel,
and it's less than

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

box store

box store

a box store isn't
where they sell boxes.
it's where they sell stuff
they bought "in volume"
and marked up only as far
as the stuff would look

i go to one of these
stores. it's where retail
items get one last chance,
like habitual felons.

i buy two bars of
Cashmere Bouquet soap
there because i need soap
and i've liked that name
for decades and it's a two-word
surrealistic poem.

the husband of the woman
in front of me in line to pay,
he's disabled. he leans on
one cart while she unloads
the other. they're around 40.
she hands him his retractable
cane, then unloads 2

rugs, 9 bags of gerbil food,
and 10 boxes of cereal.
as the cashier shoots
the items with his laser-gun,
he says to the other cashier,

"when do we get help?"
the woman in line ahead
of me to pay says, "are
you hiring?" the cashier
does not look at her and
says, "we just hired some
people. there's an application
over there." i watch

the disabled husband. he
keeps his game face. he refuses
to look ashamed. he looks
out but not down. i think
he was hurt on the job. badly.
like his leg is permanently wrong.

he still wears the jacket
with the label of his company.
his hair is neatly trimmed.

the cashier says, "will
that be credit or debit?"
the husband says, "debit."

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

"dreaming," by Charles Bukowski

More Haiku of Basho, translated by Lucien Stryk

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What Have You Done For Me, Lately?


What Have You Done for Me, Lately?

What have you done for me, Lately?
 I don't even understand your name--
"Lately" can mean tardy or recent,
and hell, "late" can even mean dead.
"My late uncle" doesn't mean, "Oh,
I wonder what's keeping my uncle!"
Death's keeping him. I'm compulsively

early in a world that slops past appointments
like bilge. The others arrive late--but not
lately. Good God, Lately, you're a rejected
adverb! You're a part of speech wandering
in a desert. What have you done for me
except make me rush, glance at my watch,
worry when a friend doesn't show?

Lately, you are time's freelancer, a runner
for bookies, the line of people that doesn't
move. I'd like to do something for you,
Lately. For really I would.

"Fox and You," by Hans Ostrom

Sunday, November 13, 2011

and the soup


and the soup

and I'm glad for soup,
 for hot soup on  bitter days

and I'm happy there is
black hair, white hair, brown
and red hair, gold hair;

and for breath--so easy
to forget I owe everything
to it, to breath, to . . .

. . . to the Circumstances
(one way to say it) I am
grateful, for I am here,

I was here, will have been

here. . . and I'm glad for light,
day and sky and bulb,
light in dreams;
and glad for darkness--

black silhouettes of pines
against blackness and stars,
holy, holy . . .and the soup.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Friday, November 11, 2011

Lime Cove


Lime Cove

Charlotte sings a lullaby
to her bedroom, making sure
it's slow asleep before she
quicks herself away. Charlotte
and the night are in a kind
of clanky love. She says
to her doorbell, "Please come
in," and washes from it all
those oily index-finger prints.

Solicitations, she thinks, take up
so much of our lives. Asking,
answering. "God," she asks,
"help me to find a place in pause,
a site, a situation, for it seems
I am defeated by the business
of each day."  Charlotte knows

she hasn't earned or isn't due
a special treatment. She also
knows she isn't out of line
in asking for some cease of
time, a cove carved out of
lime, where a pod of echoes
soaks itself in brine.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

How To Be A Sonnet

Re-posting one from a few years ago:

How To Be A Sonnet

You have to utter what you have to say
Iambically, and then you must transmit
Whatever poet using you that day
Decides that she or he desires to get
Across compressedly and cleverly.
However well you carry out this task,
Please know, my dear, that you'll fail utterly.
For every sonnet-sampler now will ask,
"How can this upstart thing even presume
To carve its iambs anywhere as well
As Shakespeare's little monuments that loom--
Or all the sonnets that still help to sell
Anthologies to students who view verse
As if it were a body in a hearse?"

Copyright 2007 Hans Ostrom

Wednesday, November 9, 2011




He wasn't opposed, in principle,
to self-loathing. Some people spoke
highly of the condition, as if it bore
a certain status. It's just that

he figured he couldn't afford
to give the people who disliked him
even one more team-member.

Liking himself seemed to be
the correct strategy in this world.

He knew he was no bargain. He
knew he said things like, "He's
no bargain, that's for sure,"
too much--old-fashioned expressions.

. . .And a hundred other flaws,
at least. Still: self-loathing?

No way. He didn't mind loving
his enemy, in theory, but helping
his enemy hate him? He just didn't
see how that penciled-out.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Rock, Paper, Scissors


Rock, Paper, Scissors

Rock: baby on your shoulder, parent--
rock your child to sleep. If you think
it takes too long, you'll know you're
wrong. Infancy, childhood, adolescence...
like a bullet train.

& Roll: a wonderful noise we
gave and received, thanks to R&B
& those blues women and men &
those folk men & women from
hills and fields and hollows,
from juke joints and plank porches.

Rocks: he grew up with them.
Boulders in the way, on the way,
of the wall, all rolled around by
glaciers and long-gone rivers.
Heat of boulders in the sun:
like touching the hard hide
of some still beast.

Paper is civilization.

Some of us lived much of our lives
on paper, feeding on words, scribbling,
scribbling. To us these pulpy tissues
were endless plains we trekked upon.

Murderous reports, condemnations,
memos, agreements, Solutions, Acts,
laws, sentences, secrets: By means of
such papers, nations ask Reckoning
and Doom to RSVP.

Scissors: a disagreement so ritualized,
it's synchronized, and so it cuts--
two people who never should
have gotten married.

Cutting clippings out--back when
newspapers were made of paper,
and of news. Back when someone,
maybe you, got noticed, noted,
in some local immediate lore.
Dear God, what are such memories for?

A paper bookmark. How thin, how fit,
how kind, how deft! Obliquely, how seductive!

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Under a Blue Umbrella


Under a Blue Umbrella

Something about opening a blue
umbrella, its handle too short, and
with some kind of tassel, made me
tell a truth to myself: You've been a fool
your whole life. I kept moving, no sense
stopping for such a flabby epiphany.

Rain pixelated puddles on black asphalt.
I sensed somewhere some machine
had pulverized my so-called achievements,
worked them back into the soil which hosts
that strange weed, ambition.

Your ridiculous clothes (at least you have
some), your absurd activities (at least
you're well enough to be foolish), your
denial of your standing appointment
with oblivion!.... This is a sample of
my extended remarks to myself.

--Not a whisper of self-pity, I am
pitifully proud to say. No whining
in the rain. Just a fool under a sad
contraption made of tinny metal
and a slippery fabric. Wind inverted
the umbrella, exposing its ribs and
my head. I struggled to re-shape
the thing.  --Poor imitation of a

Buster Keaton schtick. (And does
anyone remember Buster Keaton?)
--Just a fool under a blue umbrella--
with wet shoes (at least you have shoes).

In the automobile and going home
became a way to try to minimize
further indictments of myself. There
were the flapping wipers to control,
the turn-signal, the radio . . . .

Copyright 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

Playing a Landscape


Playing a Landscape

Landscape with musical notations:
a fine proposal: each time a squirrel,
toad, bear, bird, or lizard touches a note,
which could be masked as stone or leaf,
that note is played. Vast wild crops
of Be-bop! Seeds of salivation in
the breeze! Gusts rustle up cracked

chords and sprung melodies til air
is stoned with unchained jazz and
re-reverb-ed echoes. Hell yeah, painter,
paint me into this big picture. I'm

there, wet pigment in my hair;
me running around, stomping on
some quarter-notes, shouting
Hey now to all y'all, released into
a tunacy, far from this mausolemuseum
which I shall call today these Workaday Estates.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Friday, November 4, 2011

Regarding Math


Regarding Math

(problems, indeed)

Among his several problems with mathematical equations
was that he had no trouble letting x be x and y be y. He
silently advised them to remain letters. He did wish for them
that they didn't have exponents sitting on their shoulders
like unseemly growths. Also a problem is that he saw

both sides of an equation as art--assemblages of parentheses,
letters, numbers, and other symbols--and he didn't care
what they stood for.  They stood for the image they created.

Then there was the problem of his seeing--there, in the middle--
an equal-sign.  He thought, if each side is content to be equal
to the other, who am I to intrude on this amicable truce?
They were the same, apparently, so let them be. He didn't

care to know their secrets.  Forced to solve an equation,
he did so, but it never felt like success, and he never
recalls anyone explaining why equations had to be solved.

He does remember sitting next to pretty girls in math class
and smelling their hair and their thin sweaters, and looking
at their painted nails, and thinking, "Let these girls
stand for beauty. Yes, let's equate them with allure."

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

"When It's Cold and Raining," by Rumi

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Harvest Blade


Harvest Blade

Hockey players in uniform float
down a river enlarged
by a massive ice-melt far away.

They hold their sticks high,
rudders without boats. Look, now:
they're followed by last year's

Queen of the Adrenalin Parade,
dressed in a gown of
acetylene blue-and-white.

She rides on a raft made
of synthetic whale-bones.
Violinists from broken

orchestras line the river-bank,
serenading all things that pass
on floods.  In shallows,

fish hear strings' vibrations, shimmer;
and shiver. And the glare from the sun
is a blade. It is a harvest blade.

Copyright 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady

This short video is amusing--Neal Cassady seems to perplex Allen Ginsberg as Cassady speaks of Armageddon and "extremists," which probably include Ginsberg:

Ginsberg and Cassady

Monday, October 31, 2011

Questions for Republican Candidates

Some questions I'd like to hear asked of the Republican presidential candidates--or any candidates [Congress, President Obama, e.g.]--in debates:

1. Do you have any close friends who live at, below, or near the poverty-line?

2. What manual-labor jobs have you held--what kind, when, and for how long?

3. Would you explain why the trickling in a "trickle-down" economy is a good thing for those being trickled upon?

4. According to generally accepted economic theory, what is the greater source of economic growth, consumer-demand (from, for example, the middle class) or very rich people?

5. Who is your favorite American poet, and why?

6. Do you have any close friends who are gay or lesbian?

7. What is a favorite novel of yours not published by an American?

8. Why do you think the budget deficit increased during the Reagan years?

9. Who is or was one of your favorite blues performers, and why?

10. In your view, does humanity face an environmental crisis?  If not, please say why.  If so, please provide a few details about that crisis.

11. What is one of your favorite comic feature-films, and why?

12. What is one of your favorite foreign feature-films, and why?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Zen Golf

re-posting one from a while ago

Zen Golf

Bow to the ball. Apologize
in advance for striking it.
Hit it with your favorite
club in any direction.
It's all a Hole out there--
the course, the world,
reality. Therefore, you

can't not hit a hole in one.
Going dualistic for a moment,
the bad news is that no one
keeps score. Even if someone
did count the strokes, there's
nothing to win. Good news
on the dualistic scale: You're

outside, the club in your hand
gleams, a bird craps on a
rich man's head, and....

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Big Guitar Blues

Big Guitar Blues

   Inspired by three works of art (assemblage and acrylic paint) by Becky Frehse:  
Col Legno Battuto, Divisi á Due, and Playing By Heart (2010)

An old guitar enlarges, disrupts my evening, goes
through the roof, and multiplies its frets on up. I fetch
a step-ladder and start climbing between the d
and f strings. In night-air soon wind strums strings
and they buzz me to my bones. It doesn’t take long
to climb past that circular cave-mouth (weird echoes)
and get  too high—nice view of city lights: I feel
as if  I had to mention  that. Knuckles numb,

I start to hum a song I think the strings imply,
as now I hear all six and keep on climbing. Where
does this neck end? Won’t neighbors have reported
this by now? Mist has wetted frets. I slip, barely
hook my elbow on the pipe-sized string, recover.

I’m old, cold, and tired. Now one by one, each string
groans like a different-voiced, mournful beast. Somewhere
in clouds, some picker’s  tuning up. O man, O woman,
I got me some of them gargantuan guitar blues,
and I got my slippers on, not shoes.

Hans Ostrom 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Of Time and the Poets


Of Time and the Poets

While Since was settling its accounts
with time, Then subsequented right on
down the line. Because pretended to be be
more than it was, as Correlation made
a difference and created some buzz.

Later, when Eventually, Never, Seldom,
and Once raided the place, narrative
lost face, story-tellers interrupted each other,
and poets withdrew to a corner where
Not-That-Much happens any time
it desires; where plots are as tedious
as blueprints, and Immediately shouts,
Can I get an Amen? and Might I Have a Beer?

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dusk: Rabbit


Dusk: Rabbit

Came home from work at dusk.
Saw a rabbit on the grass.
Turned off the car, its lights.
Got out of the car, closed the door.
Was weary. --Long day with humans.
Expected rabbit to run, sound of slamming door. No.
Talked to rabbit, rabbit not having run. Rabbit
Stared. Still. I
Said, "Hey, what's going on?" Rabbit
Hopped. Twice.  It
Nibbled clover. Much to do, little time to
Do it in. It
Kept one big eye in silhouette on me. I
Felt better, for I had
Seen a rabbit and
Chatted up a rabbit in twilight. I
Breathed. I
Looked around, And up. And down. I
Held a heavy briefcase,
Wore a heavy coat,
Saw now darkness settle.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Walk to Occupy


A Walk to Occupy

    October 15, Tacoma, part of the Occupy movement

We were constrained. By our bodies, the weather,
weariness, sidewalks, and lingering cynicism. By
our common sense, an elusive guide. By the absence
of a need to do too much--to flair or pose or (for
heaven's sake) lead. We'd had quite enough
of that bad comedian, leadership.  We showed up

in People's Park on Martin Luther King, Jr.,
Way, next door to the Johnson Candy Company
on The Hilltop. We were old, young, lithe, slow;
bound to wheelchairs, crutches, braces;
under-dressed (shorts in this weather?); bundled up;
staring; smoking; worrying; cell-phoning, texting.

We put a few signs together.  A man of 65--
everybody's capable grandfather with a
staple gun--helped. A police cruiser stopped.
The police got out--woman, man.  A woman
whose affect has probably gotten her called,
complacently, hippie for several decades
chatted them up. They left.

If I were in power (that impossibly subjunctive
mood), I might worry, if I worried about people,
about the matter-of-factness of it all.
We knew how to do this. Anarchists, long-
shoremen, teamsters, retired teachers and
shop-keepers, an entrepreneur in a three-
piece suit, folk guitarists, well appointed
women with substantial wealth.  Someone said,

of all the photographers, "One of these has to
be from the FBI.  You know--that face-recognition
software."  We were nothing to infiltrate or
subvert.  The nature of our beast was as slick
as a seal's back: nothing to get a handle on,
but nonetheless there the seal is: barking,
hungry. As if we already don't have enough to do,

we of the 99% now have to try to fix all the shit
bankerokerages, oligarchs, crazed traders, Ponzi-punks,
and our stupid "representatives" broke.  Lethal
greed and misbegotten miscalculation spring from
excess power like hollyhocks from cow manure.
It's not quite a law of physics. It might as well be.

'Occupy Group' thinks Wall Street has too much
power--is short on specifics, said a headline
in a newspaper.  That's not specific? Anyway,
we got together. We moved, as people who work
move. Steadily. Efficiently. On time. With purpose.
Go ahead. Have it your way. Ignore us.We'll see you.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Monday, October 17, 2011

Jesuit Joke

A close friend is reading a book by a Jesuit priest.  I don't have the title/author with me, but I'll get it for a subsequent post.  Anyway, the book includes this joke, which Jesuits have been familiar with for a while, I gather:

A woman comes to a Jesuit priest and asks whether there's any way she can determine how her very young son will turn out.  The priest says, "Yes. Put a glass of milk, a glass of whiskey, and a book in front of him.  See which one he grabs for first."

"What will that tell me?" the woman asks.

The priest answers, "If he grabs for the milk, he'll be interested in community service. If he grabs for the whiskey, he'll have a drinking problem. And if he grabs for the book, he'll be an intellectual--and probably argumentative, too."

"What if he grabs for all three at once?" the woman asks.

The priest answers, "Then he'll become a Jesuit."

Friday, October 14, 2011

About American Colleges

I'm no expert on American colleges and universities (I'll call them both colleges), even though I've either been attending one of them or teaching at one of them (or both) since the Fall of 1971--except for a total of 3 semesters teaching in Germany and Sweden. Anyway I'd call my observations informed, to a degree, but still casual.

What American college have had and still have going for them: There are a lot of them.  Also, in most cases, they allow for late-bloomers in a way European higher education (for example) doesn't.  Some students get the hang of things intellectual and academic later in high school or even in their second year of college.  The American system accommodates them.

The system also allows for people who, for one good reason or another, simply have to go to college later in their lives.  The GI Bill alone stands as a shining example of this.

How American colleges are currently in trouble:

Well, a lot of them are broke, or at least facing tough economic times. And America itself is deeply conflicted about how much (and how) it wants to support higher education.  The California community-college and university system used to be the product of a society that was unconflicted about higher education.  One could go to a community college and transfer to the UC system, or go directly to the UC system, and get a first class education for very little money.  And society, not just the students, was better for it, in my opinion.

Now, across the board, from public universities to private colleges, students are graduating with way too much debt.  Because consumers drive the economy, and because such students are spending money on paying off loans (spending it "the past," as it were), they're not spending it on goods and services.

I think the system still does not do as well as it could with ethnic minorities.

I think state universities, especially the "research" ones, have to depend too much on outside grants.  At some universities, professors have to raise 50% or 60% per cent of their salaries through grants.  This situation has to have an effect on what they research and perhaps even on how they construct their results.   I also think that teaching at the undergraduate level at a lot of state colleges is pretty bad--because of class-sizes but also because some t.a.'s and graduate assistants aren't well trained.

Liberal arts colleges are in trouble because their endowments are in trouble.  Also, they've gotten by hoping no one will notice a blatant contradiction: All of the claim to offer a (more or less) "traditional liberal arts curriculum," and all of them claim simultaneously to be "distinctive" (from one another). Well, one wants to ask, which is it? 

Such colleges also remain very white and very upper middle-class, although some are doing better on the class side of things. Also, these colleges fall into some fallacious either/or thinking: Either you can offer a liberal arts education or you an offer an education that has some sharp focus on employment after college.  At a lot of such colleges, any particular focus on employment--except at the "career center"--is consider vocational, which in turn is considered a pejorative term.

Community colleges continue to be the hero in our story, except of course they're now asked to do way too much with way too few resources.

I think almost all American colleges find themselves in an identity-crisis, and most of them are in denial about it.  Liberal arts colleges need cash flow because they're so expensive to attend, so, under the guise of connecting the classroom to the living-situation, they may require students to live on campus beyond the freshman year, sometimes all the way through the four years.  As an astute student said to me, "It's a control issue."  It's also a money issue. Students on campus pay rent directly to the college and buy a lot of food on campus.  Under the guise of one identity, then, the college is actually and merely focusing on cash-flow.  I wonder how many students and parent see through the disguise immediately.

Meanwhile, big state colleges have to rely on semi-pro athletic programs to generate money, and on sports-crazed alumni to give money--with the attendant problems of "boosters" violating rules and students & coaches unconcerned about education.  I think big state (research) colleges have to depend too much on large corporations, too--to drive the research, which brings in the grants.

Just think if only a fraction of the money spent on recent wars had been spent on higher education.  Then think more broadly of how America perceives its higher education--and its public schools.  A society deeply divided about the worth of education and the value of spending money on education is a society in trouble.  In my opinion.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Of Atheism


Of Atheism

Its virtue is its flaw: it makes sense.
Makes sense within the tiny room
of human experience.  It is a kind of
Puritanism (atheists are often righteous),
without the fabulous fractures, the gothic
repressions: melodrama. Some atheists,
to be fair, are entertaining as hell--
when they talk about God. Some
of the jokes are excellent. When

atheists hold forth only on atheism,
however, they become preachers,
and one can hear the creaking of
the hobby-horse and the snoring
from the back of the room. Atheism

is like a three-act play with one act,
a dull, factually accurate brochure
sent to millions, or a worn windshield
wiper. I mean, really? That's it? That's

the best you can do? Spoil everybody's
mystery, smother everyone with
an empirical pillow? I love atheists
in the way I love boulders and chores.

Atheism is a glass of tepid milk.
It is a beige uniform with the letters
this is it stitched on it in brown thread.

Atheists, bless your hearts.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Monday, October 3, 2011

Shadow Storage


Shadow Storage

Home now out of sun,
you may take off your shadow,
hang it in the closet holding
other shades, or roll it up
and tuck it in a drawer.

It weighs nothing, your shadow.
Yet you feel it dragging. It's
an unsavory presence, attracting
worry, shame, regret, and doubt,
so that by the time you end a day,
you feel as heavy as two people.

It is a uniform fashion, a required
implication of light and depth.
So say the regulators, anyway--
those unamused members
of the psyche's council.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Saturday, October 1, 2011

709 [Publication -- is the Auction] by Emily Dickinson

Spiders and Company Want Inside

In the Pacific Northwest--and most of the Northern Hemisphere, I assume--this is the season when lots of small creatures want to get inside humans' abode.  Spiders construct webs near doorways, and they may be found trying to get inside through cracks.  The same goes for earwigs. Field-mice, too. And wee beetles.

So I'm re-posting a poem from Fall 2007:

Spiders’ Migration

Northern Hemisphere, September: spiders
come inside. They slip through seams
to here, where summer seems to them
to spend the winter. Their digits tap out
code on hardwood floors. They rappel
from ceilings on out-spooled filaments
of mucous, measuring the place. Sometimes

they stay just still. Paused. Poised.
It’s not as if spiders wait for us
to watch them, or even as if they
wait. Rather, octavian motion
is so easy, syncopated, and several
that stillness surely exhilarates spiders
just arriving from the Northern Hemisphere.

It’s time for us to enter equal days and
equal nights, to pluck the filament between
fear of and fascination with spiders, moving in.

Hans Ostrom. Copyright 2007.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Hidden Driveway


Hidden Driveway

In Tacoma to-Friday-night, after
laughing as hard as we needed to
with friends, we walked down
a dark alley to our car,

and I saw a sign on a
greased wooden telephone pole
that read, "Hidden Driveway,"
and above it was a round

convex mirror, in which
pointless murky images lived.
I found the concept of
a hidden driveway to be

not quite beautiful but
nonetheless necessary.
How crucial, I thought,
to have hidden driveways

out of which unseen people
drive their hidden vehicles
into obscure traffic to
secret jobs to earn invisible

money for unacknowledged
families, and then come home
to park the ghost-car and go
inside a domestic cloud.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Epidemiology of Hate


Epidemiology of Hate

If only we could vaccinate
against hate.
It's the constant plague. It leaves
each era a wreck,
and from each new wreck
more hate mutates.

Consider the hate you hear
every day in common discourse,
in how our "leaders" talk to each
other about people they imagine
to be us. Language
becomes black bile. Vile
strategems go viral.

No mass-cure for hate exists.
Individuals must treat themselves,
must get to know how to learn.
Must go inside themselves, scrub
the mind, and think. Must
choose to get better; or
at least not worse.

To witness the pleasure of hate
play on faces and turn person-herds
rabid is to glimpse evil's vectors
and hosts. People, witness what
hate does to you, to them. Change.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Creature in a Copse


Creature in a Copse

Scuffed rough gray trunks of fir trees
in a copse stand ruler-straight, may
suggest modest ambition or nothing
but the image they help compose.
"Yes, trees are everywhere," wrote
Pound, dismissively, the rest of the
argument left unstated. True, almost

no one can really take a nature-break
from civilization because in retreat
even a recluse thinks of civilization.
A lot. Still, the still copse is. How
these particular (not just any) boughs
play riffs on breeze matters if you
notice. No performance is identical.

Of course there's machinery, there are
people, more or less nearby. And there's
you, as envoi from the not-wild. To come
here, to look at a stand of conifers, always
intricate, proves a worth, re-establishes
a modest, appropriate dignity not
discoverable by drilling through rocks

from civilizations' virtual rubble of myths
and texts. A precocious smart-ass in a copse
is just another creature amid trees that
keep on with the being thing and breathe.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Something My Wife Said To Me Today

"I know you would be comfortable living between a cemetery and a creek-ravine, but most people wouldn't, okay?"

Friday, September 23, 2011

Where He Works


Where He Works

At the institution where he works,
people pass each other in corridors
or outside. They say hello for 10,
15, 20, 30 years. They recall each other's
names. Or not. They "work together"--
not really. Each is after only her or his
cup of compensation, acknowledgement.
Sometimes one person gets excised by the
institution.  Efficiently cut away. It
upsets a few people. For a while. Then,
more soon than late, there's no memory
of who left, who got removed. The
institution is like a moored ship full
of ghosts.  It's not going anywhere.
Hello, goodbye, request, deny.
The institution sometimes consults
the ghosts before it changes
things.  This is an especially empty
ritual.  A polite and airless drama.
After one ghost leaves, another
takes its place.  Or not. Hi. Nice
to see you.  See you later. Thanks! No.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Art of Obscurity


The Art of Obscurity

Becoming a hermit
is the lazy person's path
to obscurity. The more
determined Obscurity Artist

becomes known but not
remembered, hides in plain
sight, is never exalted; it
goes without saying: hush.

Make connections that break.
Pretend to be interested in
rising and climbing, but see
to it you withdraw in time.

Stay and play at edges.
Always trouble categories.
Take advice but treat it
as material to rework

into whatever art it is
you make, not as assistance
out of the shadows.  Come and
go as you please, a kind of fame.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Friday, September 16, 2011

Late Orthodontia


Late Orthodontia

A dentist wants to straighten the man's teeth,
close up those those gaps--the ones that help
to scare people when his smile, tied somehow
to a Viking heritage, fully deploys its ivory squad.
An aunt of his had teeth behind her wisdom teeth.
He wonders if his is a Berserker's grin.

He hadn't invited the dentist to suggest dental
rearrangement. He had been and is content
with his teeth.  The man gets much unbidden
advice, always has. War, famine, and economic
collapse continue, so he's not however about
to spend excess thought on piercers and grinders

that do their jobs. "Do you floss with rope?" a
pretty young woman once asked him way back
then at a college party. "If you take your clothes
off, I'll try it," he'd said. They'd shared a laugh,
teeth bared. She'd stared at his teeth. Again.
Hers were straight and white, direct from suburbia.

"When I was 10," he told her, "my parents asked
the dentist if I should get braces." Probably the
Eagles were playing in the party's background--
"Tequila Sunrise" or "Take It Easy."  He said,
"But the dentist told them that my tongue is
too big and would just push the teeth and open

the gaps again. "No," the woman had said. She
smelled good, had on a thin dress. "Yes," he said.
Now through the Invisoline of memory, he
recalls that she shifted hips as he sipped tequila.
"Really," she said, not quite a question, and sipped
her beer, looked at his closed mouth; and pondered.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Monday, September 12, 2011

Attitude Toward Light


Attitude Toward Light

Light's entered once more. It's physics;
and a miracle. A sky of light, a scene
of green life drinking light--commonplace,
we might say; but shouldn't.

You're seeing the light or-and feeling
light's warmth on your skin--
light just arriving from the sun. Breathe
into the peace of it. Will civilization--
there's only one now, you know--
ever be marked mainly by its
capacity for peace? In this light,

it's important to ask such questions,
from which more light shines. Let your arms
hang down. Tilt your face up to the light.
For a moment hold this attitude, not
that other one. Your breath goes
out to the light.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Friday, September 9, 2011

Machine People


Machine People

You've ground me down to dust,
machine-people, pious nihilists,
capitalized thugs. You silly
sonsofbitches, you wreck shit
and never have to pay. You
blood- and spirit-sucking demons
who fucking hate everything including
your own bodies, your own children,
anyone with wit, brains, sensuality,
magic, quickness, intuition. You

horrible people, offspring of
slaveowners, union-busters,
torturers, flesh-burners,  apocaplyptic
thieves, puritanical freaks,
earth-eaters. God damn you
to your Machine Hell, your
Bankers' Killing Floors,
your cabinets of body parts.

You've ground me down but
I aspire to summon energy
enough to rise up and eat
your throat and stick a spike
of history into the side of your
fucking head. You've ground me
down to dust, so God damn you.
"He's very abrupt and changeful.
What brand of man is he?" asks
Sweet Jane Eyre, ground down.

He's the brand of man who's
going to bury a pick-ax into
your head while you sleep on
silk sheets next to a trophy-wife.

You've ground me down to
the dust you'll choke on,
eyeballs bulging, your fourth
wife grabbing jewels and
pre-nupts as she laughs and runs.
As you descend from your
private jet, glance left.
Too late. Too late.

"All's To Do Again," by A.E. Housman

Friday, August 26, 2011

Eyes on the Road


Eyes on the Road

I don't like to keep my eyes on the road.
I like to keep them in my head.

I imagine a long highway covered with eyeballs,
hear the sound of car-tires striking them,

see what's left--miles of slime on asphalt.

Motorists  pull over. They and their passengers
run into woods, retch and moan near ponds,

where frogs lift their eyes out of water, stare.

Hey, now: something amphibian in human eyes,
which blinking keeps wet and dry land
keeps focused. 

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Michelle Alexander on "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age o...

Proverbs, I

The Best Book On Racism in the U.S. in Decades

I've just read the best book on racism in the U.S. in decades. It is The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander. Alexander is a former attorney. She has a gift for amassing crucial detail, weaving into a brisk narrative, but not cutting corners.  She used to be a litigator. From her book, I've deduced that one of her techniques in court must have been to let the evidence speak for itself when it is overwhelming.

I hope I don't mangle her thesis too much as I paraphrase it.  It is foregrounded by a sketch of American history, which includes (of course) slavery, followed briefly by Reconstruction, followed immediately by the era of Redeemers, white folks who wanted to "redeem" society.  We all know about the KKK and white terrorism and Jim Crow, as well as de facto Jim Crow in the North, which affected housing and schools, etc. Two keys to Jim Crow were disenfranchisement and using the law to retain de facto slavery. That is, on a massive scale, white folks would have Black men, especially, arrested on any pretext, sent to prison, but then "hired" out as workers, with no pay.  Alexander documents this beautifully.

Fast-forward to 1980 and the Rise of Reagan. She documents how Reagan and his regime invented a war on drugs out of whole cloth.  They deployed a massive PR program, even, to scare (white) people and link the "war" to Nixon's "law and order" schtick.  In the PR program, drugs were linked almost exclusively to Black people. Enforcement was federalized and militarized.  Do you remember a time when most cities and towns didn't have a SWAT team? Me, too. Now everybody has a SWAT team, and through various means such teams and other local law-enforcement are linked to the FEDs. The same thing has happened with the "war on terror," of course.  Reagan's Feds leaned heavily on state and local officials to join "the war on drugs"--or else.

Results: About half of all Black men in the U.S. are either in prison or declared felons or both.  That's right. About half.  And guess what?  Black folks are no more likely to use or sell drugs than White folks. Alexander has the data. A vast percentage of the people in prison are in there for possessing drugs--and not for sale. And often just weed. Add the extreme sentencing-guidelines, including the 3-strikes law, and the picture gets worse.  Alexander also demonstrates, again with data, that the U.S. imprisons more ethnic minorities than either Russia or China. 

 Basically, Jim Crow went underground--or hid in plain sight: at least as White folks are concerned.  White folks have been conditioned to associate drug-use with Black and Brown folks, to be indifferent to Draconian drug-laws and drug-sentences, and to be indifferent to the erosion of the 4th and 8th amendments.  Alexander demonstrates that illegal search and seizure is a thing of the past--especially for Black and Brown folks. Police routinely stop people and ask if they may search them. Few people have the confidence or wherewithal to say, as they should, "No."  Of course, add in the Patriot Act, and the 4th amendment is moot.

Alexander further argues that the election of Barack Obama is more of an irony than a milestone, and that Black "exceptionalism" has always been a tool of White bigotry and indifference.  "See--he made something of himself, and we voted for him! How can you say racism persists?"

Of course, none of this is news to most Black folks. They live under these conditions. Of course, a majority of White folks will resist the arguments because they need the myth of a nation that has gotten better and better, that has made Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a hero with his own Washington monument (in white, ironically).

Interestingly, Alexander argues that indifference, not bigotry, is the main issue.  If the police harassed White folks and broke into their homes under the weakest of pretenses proportionally to the way they do with Black and Brown folks, all these issues would converge into an emergency.  I've never been stopped for driving while White.  I've never--never--met an adult Black man who hasn't been stopped for driving while Black.

If you react fiercely against these arguments, that's fine.  In fact, this means there is no argument, in the sense that Alexander or I or anyone else is unlikely to change your minds. So it goes.

If you respond skeptically, all the better.  That is, in fact, where Alexander began.  She was skeptical of the pattern that seemed to be emerging as she studied the problem.

If you're comfortable with the prison population jumping from 300,000 (1970) to over 2 million (today); if you're comfortable with prisons being filled mostly with Black and Brown folk; if you're comfortable with half of Black men being felons and thus disenfranchised, excluded from housing and employment programs, and essentially doomed; if you think the U.S. has made "a lot of progress" in race; if you think we live in a color-blind society--well, you're among a large majority.

If you think these conditions are scandalous, alarming, and wrong, please read the book. Or if you don't want to or can't afford to buy the book just yet, google Michelle Alexander on Youtube, and catch a summary of her argument.

Your Condition


Your Condition

People will think something
to keep your condition from
affecting their view of life,
especially when their view
of life has contributed to
your condition. If indifference
doesn't work, they'll likely
blame you entirely for your
condition and suggest you
take full responsibility,
which will of course be
finely choreographed with
their taking no responsibility.
People hate to have their
indifference disrupted.
All of which is a funny
as Eudora Welty wrote,
not funny-ha-ha. Still
you'll laugh. Probably.
Maybe. At first.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Monday, August 22, 2011

With More Noise Comes More Silence


With More Noise Comes More Silence

All right, don't get back to me, then. In
this age of proliferated communication,
silence too is on the rise. People ignore
or do not respond to messages, questions.
Silence is a response. It baits assumptions,
massages insecurities. It leaves you alone

with yourself, and there's that submerged
piece of you that's almost glad. There's
a pleasing ache in isolation sometimes--
like that of muscles after work or sport.

And you're asked, by yourself, "Just what
were you expecting, fool, in return for your
message, your question?"  You choose
not to respond to yourself.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

"Fall Wind," by William Stafford

"Flight-Attendant's Instructions Song," by Cosmo Monkhouse

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Thoreau on Scholars

From a friend in Boston:

Thoreau:  "There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live, according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically. The success of great scholars and thinkers is commonly a courtier-like success, not kingly, not manly. They make shift to live merely by conformity, practically as their fathers did, and are in no sense the progenitors of a nobler race of men."

Poem: "Professors of Literature"

--Intentionally painting with a broad brush here. There have been and still are splendid professors of literature. I studied with a couple of them.

Professors of Literature

They don't love books so much
as covet them, jealous of students
who want casual affairs with novels
or poems. They imagine themselves
to be dead authors' agents, lawyers,
conjurers, explainers, personal friends,
stunt-doubles: "indispensable." They
behave like security-officers prowling
canons and eras.

They tend to hate themselves, each
other, and simple questions. They
dislike students except for the ones
they collect like figurines. They
make stuff up about books and
poems but aren't imaginative.

They hate to teach rhetoric, which
is a real education, as those Greeks
and Romans knew. They excrete
things to quibble about and catch
arrogance like the flu. They love
to speak in codes of theory about
theories of codes, but they always
forget to bring evidence along.
They hate writers.

Too many are small, nasty packages
of wasted thought. A fair percentage
are bullies, also lunatics obsessed
by light-bulbs they mistake for the moon.

Their parties are no fun, are a kind of
humorless hell, though cackling can
be heard, as is the case with hazing.
They treat secretaries and
waitresses like shit. The
truth is, universities wouldn't miss
them much if they were to run off
like rabid dogs, the circuits of
their narcissism finally fried.

Creative Commons License Hans Ostrom

For the Number Four," by Hans Ostrom

Friday, July 29, 2011

"pity this monster," by e.e. cummings

What Are Your Favorite Words?

When I teach poetry-writing, I sometimes invite students to make lists of their favorite words--favorite chiefly because how they sound or intuitively "feel" to the writer, and favorite (secondarily) because of some personal connection to or memory about the word. I advise the students not to include too many words that they like simply because of a concept the word represents, like "freedom," unless the sound appeals, too.  But of course I don't "prohibit" such words. 

Such a list is useful in itself, but then you can also begin to work toward a poem by stringing some of the words together--going from specific language (with no subject in mind yet) toward a subject--and there's no rush.

Here's a link to a poem I read for Youtube, one made up of some of my favorite words; it's just a list poem, with "of" thrown in a lot as a kind of binding agent, mortar:

"Genitive Case"

Thursday, July 14, 2011

British Poets--Youtube

It turns out I've read 88 poems by British poets on Youtube. The most viewed is "Cherry Ripe" by Robert Herrick--I don't think I read it very well because I tried to sound like a market-barker in the first few lines. The least viewed is "On Gut," by Ben Jonson.  Anyway, here is a link:

British poets

"Thomas Hardy and A.E. Housman," by Max Beerbohm

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Sestina: Ellis Island, Amelia Earhart," by Hans Ostrom

Novel Out a Year--Set in the Sierra Nevada

HONORING JUANITA, a novel I wrote, has been available for about a year. It hasn't appeared on the New York Times best-seller list, but I imagine that's just an oversight. It's a contemporary tale set in the Sierra Nevada and concerns a woman who decides to protest the building of a dam on a pristine alpine river. Her husband happens to be the county sheriff, so he has to arrest her. Complications ensue, as they often do in novels. A secondary plot is historical--the lynching of a Mexican woman during California's Gold Rush.  This part's based on an actual event that happened in a town near where I grew (a town by the name of Downieville). Anyway, these stories were something I'd wanted to write since I was in about the fourth grade--well, at least the historical plot was. 

The novel-publishing world is mad to categorize novels--just look at any literary agent site. Of course, "romance" is the big category. But then there's chick-lit, fantasy, multi-cultural, "literary," mystery, and so on.

 HONORING JUANITA seems to have a bit of the "women's novel" about it, as far as I understand that category. And multi-cultural: Juanita is/was Mexican, and Mary Bluestone & her husband Lloyd are of mixed ethic backgrounds.  And environmental?  Is that a fiction-category? Also relatively short. Don't you love relatively short novels? I do, even though the enormous WAR AND PEACE remains my all-time favorite piece of fiction. But just looking at one of Georges Simenon's thin Maigret novels makes me smile. I see I've digressed.

HONORING JUANITA is available in traditional form for $11.95, less than that used on amazon, and VERY cheap on Kindle: less than a dollar! Such a deal. This post constitutes my major advertising-push and has left me exhausted.  A link:


Poems (Translated) From the Sanskrit

Here's a link to poems from the Sanskrit I've read for Youtube--all very short, and all (or most) from John Brough's wonderful translation--Poems From the Sanskrit--from Penguin, a book that should be on poetry-readers' shelves, in my presumptuous opinion:

Sanskrit poems

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Langston Hughes's Poems--Youtube

Here is a link to the poems by Langston Hughes that I've read for my Youtube channel (which is named langstonify, after all)--and grateful acknowledgement is hereby sent to Knopf and the Estate of Langston Hughes; if you don't own Hughes's Selected or Collected yet, you might want to get them.  --A highly under-rated poet, still.

Hughes poems

Friday, July 8, 2011

Amusing Poems

Here is a link to some amusing poems (well, I think they are) that I've read on my Youtube channel:

Humorous Poems

Monday, July 4, 2011

Animal Poems

Here is a link to the "Animal Poems" playlist on my youtube channel, langstonify. By the way if you're a) a poet, b) stuck regarding what to write about and c) interested in getting un-stuck, writing a poem about a creature, any creature, usually gets things going, although a pet-creature is not always the best way to go.

Animal Poems

Friday, July 1, 2011

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"the two hanks," by Carter Monroe

"Grief for the Number Ten," by Hans Ostrom

"Heaven," by Robert Creeley

How Novels Begin: OLIVER TWIST, by Charles Dickens

If They


If They

If they aren't going to be near your death-bed,
If they never thought well of you,
If they never thought of you,
If they belittled everything you did even
If they thought of you,

If they never helped you dig
in the ground when you were
digging in the ground,
If they never helped you get
better when you were ill,
If they never gave you a break,
If they never helped to fix
your leaking roof,
If they never paid for a drink,
If they never had a kind word
for you or anybody else,
If they sucked up to power
and back-stabbed their associates,
If they never thought things through,
If they thought empathy was for suckers,
If they never listened,
If they never knew one goddamned
thing about you & never cared to,
Et Cetera, then

Why do you care what they think
about you, about people you care for,
and about matters dear to you?
If they are whom they have shown
themselves to be, then let them
drift on their own sea and disappear,
and disappear.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Tuesday, June 7, 2011




Think red cedar consider aroma mountain geology owned science Descartes God wheat bread ground fire husbandry gather stay goat dog domesticate darkness fear myth anything can kill hope medicine faith.

Cedar consider stare wind touch-red-bark, smell cedar-sap. Memory light/no light, life/no life. Red resin. Consider cedar. Think cedar your life memory green memory red thick bark.

Yellow pollen wheat faith science knows nothing sure is ground fear darkness and cold death faith cedar rooted in ground in soil in rock. Water.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Red Polka-Dot Dress

[re-posting this one from another blog, Red Tales]

There is a photograph of his mother wearing a dress with red polka-dots on a white background. The photograph is a color print from the negative film of a snapshot taken after the mid-point of the 20th century.

This is the most famous dress his mother owned, as things turned out. He thinks about her putting it on that day to get ready for the party, a summer-party in the High Sierra. He thinks of her thinking that the party will be a good time, an open field of behavior, an earned respite from the work of raising three children and tending one husband in rugged country 4,500 feet above sea level.

The son knows she doesn't, on that day, see the dress as a symbol in so many words or thoughts. But he imagines she looks at herself in the circular mirror of the "waterfall" bureau, imagines she sees the dress contrasting with her deep summer tan and blue eyes just so. The image she sees is attractive, and it satisfies her. The party is going to happen. She and her husband are hosting the party. The husband is not an easy husband to have. His personality is as hard and well defined as a sheer stone bluff in the Sierra. He is a rugged, overwhelming man, with a grudge against life that's masked by a child's sense of mirth, a prophet's sense of will, a peasant's capacity to toil, and a glad smile as broad as a highway-billboard. Luckily, liquor makes him gladder still. The son knows the mother knew of other women's husbands whom liquor made mean, made violent.

At the party, there will be work but also other women to do the work, so the work will seem like part of the party. There will be laughter, liquor, and food--and several compliments about the dress, which seems that day to be the perfect summer-dress, sleeveless, cotton, red polka-dots on a white background. Everyone at the party will know a great deal about World War II, hard work, the Great Depression, and the English language as spoken colloquially in the United States of America.

None of it will escape the avalanche of time, although snapshots, saving the dress, and nonfiction writing are amusing tactics of delay, the poignant motions of an amateur magician's hands, with Death sitting in the audience like the bald figure in Bergman's The Seventh Seal.

Thank God, he thinks, his mother didn't come close to thinking thoughts as melodramatic as "none of it will escape the avalanche of time," etc., that day. Thank God his mother never saw The Seventh Seal and asked him questions about the film. He would have tried to answer the questions, and his mother would have remained unconvinced by the answers. She would have disliked the film as much as she disliked puppets of any kind.

The white dress with red polka-dots fit, the alpine sun shone, friends and acquaintances arrived, and everyone acted as if they weren't about to die, and when people act that way, and they should, they seem untroubled and, indeed, immortal.

By his accounting, all the adults who attended that party are dead. The polka-dotted dress hangs in the closet of a daughter-in-law, and one of the cousins, the many cousins, painted a watercolor featuring the dress hanging on a clothesline. The dress is a cut and stitched quaint decorated piece of cloth. The snapshot lies between pages on a shelf somewhere.

Everything is taking place and changing at a speed humans cannot, do not, and best not comprehend fully. In a way, the party was over before his mother ever put on the dress, but she didn't see it that way, and that day, that's part of what mattered, he thinks.

The scandal of time is that it allows humans just enough time to arrange their thoughts and manage their habits so as to avoid confronting the scandal of time every moment. Scandalously, time makes routine seem reasonable and a bright dress permanent, and it makes summer-parties seem like a fair exchange.

How Novels Begin: "The Spy Who Came In From the Cold," by John Le Carré

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dissertation: A Poem


Dissertation: A Poem

Recent scholars have overlooked
the fact that I need a topic for
my dissertation, so I'm inventing
one and pretending my dissertation
will fill a niche.  This study, then,

brings together punctuation-marks,
words, phrases, clauses, sentences,
paragraphs, and page numbers
in a way that will help it slip past

my dissertation-committee, who
doomed themselves to read
dissertations, or to pretend to,
by writing one themselves, or

pretending to.  The weight of
Sisyphus's boulder divided by
the weight of a dissertation
equals the weight of absurdity
generated by the process of

writing a dissertation. As a
genre, "dissertation" is like
a carcass picked at by
vultures who aren't hungry.
The carcass isn't going any-
where, and even the vultures
don't like looking at it.

I assure you, however,
moreover, and heretofore,
that my dissertation will rise
from the dead, will have flesh
on its html bones, and will

carry me into a town where
I shall be doctored. A
dissertation is a required
thing, as is all hazing: this
is one important them walking
through my dissertation.

Copyright 2011

Monday, May 30, 2011

That Is The Real


That Is The Real

That is the real is the
that: seven words and two
dots; and now we're so
far into a sentence that
we're committed, or
should be, or should send it
to a committee for review.

Let's start fresh with you,
your nostrils, the things
around you right now
that stand for the world:
that for you is the real,
that is.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom