Monday, January 31, 2011

Light on the Hill


Light on the Hill

Today I passed "The Church of
the Light on the Hill."  It was situated
in a damp hollow. "God bless," I said
silently. Later, the accountant said,
"--Provided our assumptions are correct."
I thought, "Indeed."

And they never are; or seldom.
Faith and accounting are of
the same species: hope--
a light upon a mental hill,
a light we look at from a hollow
near the river of our circumstances.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Clothing Catalogues


Clothing Catalogues

I like to look at clothing catalogues
because the photographed models
look so glad. "This sweater makes
me very happy," says a photo of a
man. "We're both wearing hopeful
skirts," says a snapshot of two women.

Some clothes appear without models
but seem animated: arms of shirts
and blouses assert themselves.
"We won't wait for bodies to take
us traveling," says the cloth. Noble

prose describes the products:
"Traditional cashmere in contemporary
styles. Imported."  Retail catalogues
are a kind of comedy in which people
marry products in the end and prices
dance with prose. You see in a good
light what's for sale, gazing at
things you thing might improve you.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Prose to Verse--Yoga Poem

In poetry-class today, we looked at a variety of short lyric-poems, discussed a few, and then did some writing. One of several options for writing was to take the advice Robert Frost apparently gave Edward Thomas, which was to describe in prose some occurrence or observation and then--gradually or not--begin to turn the writing into verse.  One result is the plain-spoken, understated lyricism we find in Frost, Thomas, Larkin, and others.

I almost always write when students write, so today I chose the Frost/Thomas option and wrote a draft-poem about yoga:

Yoga Poem

When I do yoga,
yoga does me.
I'm supposed to
practice easily,

but I don't breathe
Silly, I know.
Yoga does me.

Afterward, I
do feel good--
more like
flesh than wood.

More of yoga,
less of me:
that may be
one yoga-key.

Not quite up to the standards of "Dust of Snow" (Frost) and "Adelstrop" (Thomas), which we read, but it's a start.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Wednesday, January 26, 2011




Clinging can be a symptom of fear,
obviously so when you cling to fear.

But ... "the only thing we have to fear
is fear itself": bullshit then, bullshit now.
A necessary lie, however: people
seemed to need it to get by, by and by.

Me, I cling to books in general and
particular, going so far as to keep
particular books in bed. They are
objects and talismans to me, not
simply stored data, you see.

I cling to other things--like my
father's pickup truck, my mother's
piano, a woodpecker-toothpick dis-
penser I used to play with on my
aunt's kitchen table; also notebooks,
baseball cards, on and on: the less
valuable, the better. I don't collect:
I cling.

To old opinions. To old friends--until
they finally shut the friendship down
by not sending that annual card.

To scenes from childhood, good and bad.
To memories of people who did bad but
through corruption came out well. To
the idea of justice. To things people promised--
including me.  And of course it's all about

me, see, the clinging. If I hold on, it won't
change, or it still exists somehow, or it
won't go away, or . . . .

Bullshit--then and now. My clinging's folly.
The Buddhists say don't get attached. I've
clung to that idea. I get it. Still I say,
"Fuck you--that's the same as saying
don't breathe oxygen."  Bullshit then,
bullshit now, grasshopper.

Do you cling? I hope so. Just enough,
though. Aim high . Stay low.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

"For Librarians," by Hans Ostrom

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, et al 1950) - 1 of 2

Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles living for the city

"Morning Song," by Alan Dugan

Lyrics to "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man"

For your reading pleasure, the lyrics to "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man," by Chuck Berry:

Brown Eyed Handsome Man
Chuck Berry

Arrested on charges of unemployment,
he was sitting in the witness stand
The judge's wife called up the district attorney
         B                    E
Said you free that brown eyed man
E                            D                    E
You want your job you better free that brown eyed man

Flying across the desert in a TWA,
I saw a woman walking across the sand
She been a-walkin' thirty miles en route to Bombay.
To get a brown eyed handsome man
Her destination was a brown eyed handsome man

Way back in history three thousand years
Back every since the world began
There's been a whole lot of good women shed a tear
For a brown eyed handsome man
That's what the trouble was brown eyed handsome man


Beautiful daughter couldn't make up her mind
Between a doctor and a lawyer man
Her mother told her daughter go out and find yourself
A brown eyed handsome man
That's what your daddy is a brown eyed handsome man

Milo Venus was a beautiful lass
She had the world in the palm of her hand
But she lost both her arms in a wrestling match
To get brown eyed handsome man
She fought and won herself a brown eyed handsome man


Two, three count with nobody on
He hit a high fly into the stand
Rounding third he was headed for home
It was a brown eyed handsome man
That won the game; it was a brown eyed handsome man

Chuck Berry - Promised Land

"Sonnet," by Hans Ostrom

"Yes, I Do," by Hans Ostrom

"Inferno, Canto I: 1-21," Dante

"Wanderer's Song," by Meng Chiao

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Unto the Boundless Ocean of thy Beauty," by Samuel Daniel

Down to the Crossroads


Down to the Crossroads

Probably Robert Johnson just went away
and practiced blues guitar.  The story
about the crossroads and the Devil
is a good one, though.  Hell
yes, let the Devil take the credit.
Let glamor glow in its seductive
light as you know playing better
came from playing a lot. Meanwhile,

when you're not playing, not telling
the tale, keep practicing and moving
and hope no one gets all poisonous
with envy. You know how they do:
If someone else does good, then
it has to be bad for them. People
need stories that are about more
than the hard work they do.
People need to hear the blues, too.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Yoga Poem #8


Yoga Poem #8

Ill, I've had to be away from yoga.
It's like it's something over there now:
miles away. Hey, yoga! Ironically,

yoga's here. It's my body. Nothing
mystical about that, just fact. Yoga
is one's body doing yoga.

So when I yearn for yoga,
I'm really yearning for my body,
which is here, which is odd.

I'm yearning for my body to
behave in a certain way. After
I get well, I'm going to take my body,

which is yoga, to yoga.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

"Faith and Works," by Muriel Spark

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

Jim Holt on Memorizing Poetry

I just ran across a piece by Jim Holt (from April 2009) in the NY TIMES about memorizing poetry:

It is indeed nice to have at least a few poems up there in the noggin. (Now I have to investigate the etymology of noggin.)  If you're stuck in line or in a waiting-room, for instance, it's nice to withdraw to the pantry and take a poem off the shelf.

Aside from childrens' rhymes, "Stopping By Woods . . ." (by Frost, of course) was the first poem I memorized. We were asked to memorize it in the third grade, back when Frost was something of THE national poet.  It's actually a bit of a tricky poem because of that wonderful interlocking rhyme-scheme, although I didn't notice that til later. I think I liked the poem in part because there we were at 4,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada.  Images about snow, the woods, and the dark--and even horses--were familiar to us.  Frost's choice simply to repeat a line at the end is one of those simple but perfect moves that helps make a good poem great.  It "seals" the poem, it reinforces a sense of weary duty, and it just sounds great, like a blues refrain.

Anyway, thanks to Mr. Holt for the essay.

"Quantum Sonnet," by Hans Ostrom

"Blank Verse for Karl Shapiro," by Hans Ostrom

"Acceptance," by Langston Hughes

"Moonlight Night: Carmel," by Langston Hughes

"Neutral Tones," by Thomas Hardy

"Simon the Cyrenian Speaks," by Countee Cullen

"Penumbra," by Dante Gabriel Rosetti

"Villanelle: Something That Refrains," by Hans Ostrom

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Know/Don't Know


Know/Don't Know

I know
pretty much what you know
but I
also don't know anything like
you know
about the specific secret flow
of your
life--the essential realities of what you
and only
you can know. So here we are, same frame
of references
but different essences.
How do
you do?  You may say how
you do
but also cannot come close to
saying how
and what you do, how precisely it is to
be you,
to me. Still we must proceed with introductions.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Yoga Poem #7


Yoga Poem #7

Among the willows
the creek I am a

Yoga Creek flows.
full of its water,

They bow, stretch.
the boulder participates

its own way. Its
expand, contract.

The boulder's mat
the willows' mats,

the boulder is
with being a rock among

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

"Old Shoes"/Trudy Pitts Trio

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Music When Soft Voices Die," by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Just Ray


We'd Say That's Just Ray

He built up a furniture-store in Sacramento,
made enough to have a summer Sierra home.
This was back when families owned such stores,
before meta-corporations rolled over them
with container-shipments, volume, capital, etc.

Ray's employees embezzled. The business
collapsed.  A proud man defeated. Nobody
doesn't lose. We're told differently ("you can
be whatever you want") because it's good for
business. Yep, Ray was his name. A good man

as far as we could tell, our ages ranging from 6 to
15.  We had to furnish a tree fort, and one of us,
not me, put a garter snake down Ray's daughter's
shirt one summer when she was climbing up.
Laurel was her name. Tough. She told her
mother to shut up. This was before the thieves
wrecked Ray.  If he were alive today,

he'd say something sober and true about success.
We'd probably humor him and say, after he'd left,
"Oh, that's just Ray."

Copyright 2011 Ostrom

Monday, January 17, 2011


Acknowledgments in books are a genre unto itself, with sub-genres like the academic-book kind, the poetry-boo kind, even the textbook kind. Some are a bit grudging, as if the author hates thanking anybody. Some are expansive, even excessive--the author as darned excited.  You can bet that the spouse and the agent (if the author has either or both) get thanked. 

Anyway, I decided to play around with this in a poem.


First, I must express my gratitude
to Ladislaw Kruplizard for allowing me
to borrow his twenty-volume treatise
on Viking axes.  Elliot Logbottom, Ezra
Liverdust, Diana Glutenate, and Myron
Timitomi all glanced at drafts of the manuscript
and rolled their eyes. I thank them, and I have
a long memory.  Mao Lee Williams, Fidel
Du Pont, and Tami Bumble let me camp
in their backyards and fight raccoons
for garbage. No, really; thanks. To

the janitor at the Newton Figg Libary of
Fascinating Items, my thanks for letting
me in the back way, and mum's the word.

Finally, there are no words to express
adequate gratitude to my former wife,
Lady Esther Feastfoot, whose lawyers
destroyed my lawyers, thereby leaving
me with little to do but write this book.
Esther, the libel laws are on my side.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Memory's Bus


Memory's Bus

Memory is madness
that's deemed sane.
It hums lost tunes and
strolls a lost lane.

It makes things up
and calls them "Past."
It manufactures
replicas that last.

For language and math,
memory's all right.
It helps you hold what
you read last night.

Its versions of us, though,
become who we are.
Arbitrarily, it selects
scenes that will star.

In the story of us, memory
tells and retells us.
Memory drives the
weirdest tour-bus.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Earth As Art


Earth As Art

In aircraft over Eastern Oregon, see winter's
landscape white and blue. White discs equal
crop fields: wheat? Lake-blue equals not
lake but mountains' shadows: shockingly
beautiful and surreal. Brownish blue is lake.

All color down there just is: is simply it.
Allow color to be abstract if you will.

White ends abruptly as a suede plain
opens up to view.  Plain cannot desire
view, unlike artists and their art. This
sculpted painting below comes from
genius of, genesis of, Earth. Down there,
as up here where jet-trails briefly mark
the sky, humans have etched geometric
shapes and scrawled highways. That's
about all.  Otherwise, Earth is left
alone to the studio of itself.

Copyright 2011

Selected, Screened, Scanned


Selected, Screened, Scanned

In Vegas airport, I was selected for extra
security-screening, or netted in the screen
for securely extraordinary surveillance. I felt
like an unusual combination of numbers
that had arisen against common gaming odds.

"We want nothing in your pockets but air,"
said the woman. (The same philosophy
guides the gaming industry, which doesn't
gamble.) She then left me standing like a
mannequin in the scanner's glass exhibit,
my shoeless feet set in someone's yellow
footprints. A device rotated around

axis-me, dusting me with radiation, my
hands up and elbows out like those of
a salamander climbing a clammy stone.

I emerged with nothing in my pockets
but air and a few sad items in my
hands, such as a handkerchief and
scraps of poems. A man greeted me

severely when I came out from the
momentary cell. He examined stuff
in my hands. He spoke into a walkie-
talkie: "Copy the male," he said to . . .
someone, somewhere, who had placed
a kind of bet on me.  Why?

Was it my dark and brooding brow,
my atavistic 50s buzz-cut, my constant
befuddlement as, in line, I moved bits
of paper, coins, lint, and pens from pocket
pocket to pocket like a Dickensian
fidgeter?  What raised the odds on me,
aside from my oddity?  Ah, it could have
been my gaze, which, fascinated, fastens
itself on persons, all of whom interest me.
To stare, after all, is part of a writer's
routine.  In front of a screen, the

surveilling man or woman either was or
was not relieved to lose the wager placed
on the male, the me-male, the I, the copied
male, the selected, suspected, screened,
scanned, and surveilled male with only
air in his pockets, socks on his feet,
and curiosity in his head.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"Carpooling," by Hans Ostrom

Stan Is Stubborn

Stan Is Stubborn

Once an  inebriated stranger
in San Francisco on
the street in North Beach
said to me, 
"Stan, is that you?"
"No," I said, "I'm sorry,
but I'm not Stan. "Oh," he
said, swaying delicately in
that way actors can never
capture, the white of his
eyes gone burgundy like
a Pacific sunset, "I was
afraid of that. . . . Stan
died 'n I guess he's gonna
stay dead. He always was
a stubborn son of a bitch."

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve

it's New Year's Eve and
i'm lying in bed writing,
writing as usual. i start a
poem, then hear the phone,
get out of bed, and answer it.

the person calling
is a very close friend
and says, "i'm terribly
anxious now--i don't
know why--is everything
going to be okay?"

"yes," i answer, "it is."
my friend seems relieved.
soon the conversation ends.
i go back to bed. i'm wearing
a white oxford-cloth, button-
down shirt, not pajamas.
there are 7 books on the bed
and debris. i start to write again.

it's almost New Year's Day,
and everything is going
to be okay, if  i'm right,
and if i'm wrong.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

"Learned Critics," by Bhavabhuti

"Heavy Trash," by Mark Halliday