Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Busker in the Rain

I am a folksinger
sitting in the rain,
playing my guitar,
very much in pain.

Nobody's listening,
nobody cares.
Someone took the table,
leaving broken chairs.

I am a failing busker.
And I love it so.
I am myself, and that's
about all I know.

Nobody's listening,
they all turn away.
They look like hollow barns
that hold no hay.

hans ostrom 

Aspen Shadow Wisdom

Wisdom is a witty
shadow created by
sunlight and an aspen,
which, after Earth
became and changed
over the billions of
years, grew there then.

hans ostrom 2016

Monday, December 12, 2016

We Had a Good Morning

We had it good there for a while,
saying tuna implies blue
and shirt suggests sadness.
For most of the morning, mist
and tree remained a single entity.

The pickled, packaged voices
of information streaming through devices?
We re-deployed them as sound collages.
By late afternoon, windows re-
solidified, and reporting sports

scores seemed to be a rational
activity.  Life became plain
and tepid once more. Dogged
and sullen we set out our clothes
for the work-week ahead.

hans ostrom 2016

Monday, December 5, 2016

No-Sense Songs

We need more songs
that make no sense.
We need more grassland
and way less fence.

Fevers and fenders,
go to the dome.
Let's buy some lettuce
and polish the chrome.

We songs need more
that sense no make.
Please ask the river
to help make a lake.

No hookish formulae,
just No, yes No!
Senselessly, senselessly
trudge through the snow.

hans ostrom 2016

Stolen Thread

Ariadne ran out of thread. Now we're stuck.
Her simple woven line had belittled the labyrinth
for us, rendering it tedious at worst.  That

was up until today.  Or is it night? A frivolous,
costly puzzle can still prove deadly, we're
thinking. We're thinking of the leaders who

imprisoned us here. They're perfectly,
compulsively evil. Ariadne tried
to help us with her sensible approach.

We're starting to think someone stole
the thread, for Ariadne always
carries plenty.  The dark walls are damp.

hans ostrom 2016

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


There is a man running
a meeting, and he asks
a question of the group
and then answers it himself
first.  At some length.

Everybody knows where
this bulldozer's going, and it's
going as slowly as a slug:
to the town of Consensus:
Population, 1.

If the meetings went
more quickly; if
the manipulation were
more artful; if the palming
of the pea were less clumsy,

the group might be less
bored, although it would
be just as demoralized.

These sluggish eddies
of power characterize
the middle class, one learns.

hans ostrom 2016

False Autobiography

I was born with an ax in my hand.
I had lunch with Hailie Selassie.
I know how to make alfalfa soup.

For a year after my 17th birthday, I cried blue tears when I cried.
In high school, I lettered in varsity ballet.
I have climbed the highest mountain in Paraguay.

I was once hired by Iceland to spy on Greenland.

*Although I am White, it is still obvious to me that White Supremacy
continues to devastate America like a demonic plague.

*this part is true

hans ostrom 2016

Monday, November 14, 2016

Why Did a White Supremacist Sexual Assaulter Get Elected President?

He and Pence won more electoral votes.  Reason one.
Other reasons I have listened to: The White working class was angry about its economic position, post-recovery.  This seems to be a favorite of both the gleeful Trumpers and the Bernie-Left.  I’ll accept it for a moment.  But then, of course, the obvious question is “Why did they channel the anger into support for a White nationalist, self-admitted serial sexual assaulter?”  Answer: something else about Trump besides his economic stance (which is at best nonsensical and at worst anti-working class) appealed to these voters.  You don’t have to be a political scientist to know this.  It was probably the White nationalism, although it could have been the sexual assaults.  Or both. Also, please note that if Black people express frustration or outrage, the most prevalent White responses are, “I’m tired of hearing about race.  My relatives were Irish [or whatever] and had a tough time. Why are they so angry? What about Black on Black violence? Blah, blah, blahgitty blah.”  (What about White on White White Supremacy?)  When White men  get angry, we are conditioned to genuflect. ” They were angry, so they voted for Trump.”  (Please nod in agreement; it’s the rules.)  Sorry, Bernie or Bill O’Reilly enthusiasts.  Your logic doesn’t pass.
Other reasons  I have rolled my eyes at: Hillary Clinton is corrupt.  Hillary Clinton kept her own server which had [actually, did not have]  classified material on it.  She is a nasty woman. She’s been in or near government a long time. She’s married to Bill Clinton.  Okay, whatever.  So thus it follows that a White nationalist serial sexual assaulter is preferable in this binary voters’ choice?  It makes no sense.  A child could see through the “reasoning.”
Another: “Both candidates were unappealing, so I a) didn’t vote b) voted for Johnson c)voted for Stein, or d) wrote in my cat’s name.  Terrific.  Both candidates were equally unappealing, so I decided to help elect a White nationalist serial sexual assaulter who is homophobic and xenophobic (etc.)  Note also that Trump deployed the “international [Jewish] banking conspiracy, too.  Remember who else used that?
The candidates were equally unappealing?  Sorry,  not credible.
When Trump announced his candidacy, I repeatedly told friends and acquaintances that they (White people) would elect him.  Yes, some non-Whites voted for him, but let’s get real: No Whites, no President Trump.  Anyway, I repeated my prediction for this reason and this reason alone: I wanted to hear an argument to persuade me otherwise.  Wanted desperately to hear one. Wanted to think the majority of Whites in this country had evolved, at least modestly.  I never heard an answer to my question that satisfied me, given what the USA is and always has been.  So I expected him to win, and when Florida started going for Trump, I concluded, “She’s toast.” (Sorry for the crass phrasing.)  Never have I hated being right than I did on election night.  My accuracy disgusted me.  I turned off the TV, vomited, and slept hardly at all.
A few observations to cut through the bullshit:
  1. After 2012, “Nearly half of counties [in the South and Midwest]that previously approved voting changes with the federal government have cut voting places [before the 2016 election].”  The number is 868.  The reasons are two-fold: 1) The Roberts Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, a White Supremacist decision. 2) White Supremacist, pseudo-Jim Crow governors, legislators, and/or secretaries of state said, “Thanks, Roberts Court!” and went about suppressing the vote in ethnic areas.  Several states passed Voter ID laws to further suppress the Black (for example) vote.  The GOP = White Supremacy = hatred for the Black president = Trump. This is called getting down to brass tacks, in my late mother’s lingo.  Did these White Supremacist actions get Trump elected?  I do not know.  It doesn’t matter.  We may know the GOP by its actions and its incapacity to denounce Trump.   We may know Trump by what he has said and done and bragged about. (The quotation is from  Ari Berman, THE NATION.)  See also Emma Roller’s “Willie Horton’s Heirs,” New York Times, Willie Horton’s Heirs and “No, David Brooks, Trump is the GOP and You Own Him,” by James Leo,
  2. I hope you have cash in your wallet or purse.  If you do, take out a one dollar bill, a two dollar bill, and/or a ten dollar bill.  All bear likenesses of former slave-owners.  Washington inherited almost a dozen slaves when he was 11.  (Meditate on that for a moment.) By the time he died, he owned over 300.  Thus he presided over a concentration camp for decades.  Same for Jefferson: inherited slaves as a boy, ended up owning over 600, and presided over a concentration camp for decades.  He also had children with a slave woman. (No power differential there!) When biographer Fawn Brodie pointed this out decades ago, she was ritually attacked by White liberal historians (several of them on my campus).  Later, the DNA tests proved her right. (As if we needed the DNA test.)  Hamilton, beloved Federalist, White liberal hero:
“As the letter excerpted above reveals, Hamilton’s relationship with slavery is far from unblemished. It contains a bit of family business involving two of Hamilton’s sister-in-laws, Margarita Schuyler Van Rensselaer and Angelica Schuyler Church, and their desire to reacquire a slave named Ben who was, at the time, under lease to another political acquaintance. It is one of many such examples in Hamilton’s papers in which he acted as a financial agent for the sale, lease, or acquisition of slaves for his immediate family.” – See more at: From “Alexander Hamilton’s Exaggerated Abolitionism,” by
Now imagine a visitor from outer space who is given the currency, informed about the these slave-holding men, and then told that White Supremacist, serial sexual assaulter Trump has been elected president.  The visitor’s detached response: “Oh, okay. That makes sense. The country honors such men. Got it.”
3. Folks, it’s a White Supremacist nation.  A majority of college educated Whites in the South and Midwest voted for Trump.  College-educated. So much for the vaunted liberal-elite universities.  I have observed nothing to dissuade me from assuming that sizeable percentages of the student body, staff, and faculty at my liberal arts college either voted for Trump.  The schaudenfreude on campus on Wednesday was as thick as fog.
As a candidate for a job in African American Studies at my campus recently opined, “The law says you can, but you can’t.”  The post-Civil War amendments gave Blacks the rights of citizens and the right to vote, etc. (Except they didn’t.) Then came the lynching and other horrors after 1877.  Then came Jim Crow. Then came the mid-1960s civil rights legislation, much of it ignored in the South and often in the North (restrictive housing covenants, for example.  Note that Trump and Dad refused housing to Blacks).  Fast forward to “Stand Your Ground” and open carry.   A Black woman in the South stood her ground when she was about to be beaten up again by her husband.  She killed him with a gun because she (legitimately) feared for her life.  She was convicted and sent to prison.  She eventually got out, but that’s beside the point. The law says you can, but you can’t. Black men or women openly carrying guns?  Likely to be shot dead by a white man or woman and/or a police person.  Fast forward to events that spurred the Black Lives Matter movement.  People who say “All lives matter” are either gleefully indifferent to Black misery or are unable to absorb rudimentary linguistic subtlety in the English language.
I heard a Trumper at a rally, in response to something ugly Trump said about Clinton, yell, “String her up!”  People cheered.  Trump heard the comment and obviously thought it was appropriate.   Lynching-talk topped off by lethal misogyny.
4. White people from far Left to Far Right, can we please cut through the bullshit?  White people have never done right and made it stick for Black people.  Or for Latinos and Muslims, gays, lesbians, and the transgendered.  How many White people either voted for Trump or somehow knowingly enabled him to be elected?  A sizeable majority.  It’s moral depravity, and it never stops, and that’s why Trump got elected.  The rest is window-dressing.  A large majority of White people (many on my campus) would/will recoil from these statements (to say the least), go into wounded/outraged White-victim mode, and switch on the rationalization machine (and take it up to level 10).  They simply don’t have the moral character or intellectual maturity to fess up.  They are useless.

Bigot Nation Blues

I don't want to cope.
I just want to leave.
U.S. is Bigot Nation,
you'd best believe.

A rapist, racist xenophobe:
commander in chief.
Just like psycho slaveholders
(to be brief).

War-crazed haters run this
place, and there's no reprieve.
I don't want to cope.
I've run out of hope,
and I just want to leave.

I just want to leave.
Duties keep me here.
I see so many people
terrorized, in fear.
I don't want to cope.
I've run out of hope,
I wish I could get clear.

hans ostrom 2016

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Answer Sampler

I've prepared several answers
for you in the unlikely event
we meet and you feel like
posing questions.  Here's a 
five-piece sampler:

"Yes, the U.S. is a racist shit
hole"; "ten minutes"; "zinnias";
"Frederick Douglass"; "maybe."

hans ostrom 2016

White Pendulum

That the political pendulum swings
in the U.S. isn't important. That
White Supremacists designed and operate
the pendulum is the thing to remember
(not that you forgot).  It's a nation
founded by slave-holders and ethnic
cleansers.  (I'm seeing a pattern here.)

This is where we live, and the old news
still lacerates.  I'd pray for us all
except it seems at best quaint--
like knowing things, relying
on evidence, and resisting depravity.

hans ostrom 2016

Monday, November 7, 2016

Concerning the Kodak Brownie Target 6-20 Box Camera

Photos used to be dear currency,
transferred generationally like
jewelry. ("That's the only photo
we have of your great Uncle Ali!")

Deflation has set in. Digital spaces
trade in counterfeit images. Nobody
cares.  Photos once deemed great
are too much seen, bore.

Selfie poses have been formulated
into sub-genres. Porn proliferates
like mold. Seriously, topsoil is
rarer than photography.

However, I do keep a modest
trace of magic in an aged Kodak
Brownie box camera, with
Art Deco decoration. This

camera is so simple it's like a sneeze.
Its click is as as quiet as
a mouse's sigh. And the Brownie
knows how to keep a secret.

hans ostrom 2016

Certain Beverages

Hot chocolate is independent, comforting, and interesting,
like a tastefully dressed and perfumed woman
sitting at a bar who knows how to hold a conversation.

A shot or more of vodka is like a broad, iced
highway when you've just been handed
the keys to a black Corvette with failed
headlights and bald tires.

A German beer from the tap
is a highly trained, reserved professional,
absolutely dependable.

If you specify the red wine as Beaujolais,
then I will want to be of assistance
to multiple French women at once,
most likely in October, in Paris, and forgive me
if, momentarily, I confuse the situation
with paradise. As to retsina,

God help me, I did love it, as one
might love an athletic, deceptively
savvy woman from a rural province.

If you would ask me about God,
I would refer you to clean alpine creek-water.

hans ostrom 2016

The Schedule of Time and Space

Did space and time arrive at the same
time? Maybe time arrived on time
and space was running late. Or

Space could have been hanging around
waiting for the concept start to start.
And both time and space reported
for duty before the Big Bang, right?

It's all rather enormous and confusing.
I suppose it doesn't matter now, now
that matter is, and is space taking time
to rearrange itself constantly. Anyway,

it can't be any accident that Einstein,
whose schedule included lots of work
with time and space, developed
a comic affect.

hans ostrom 2016

Friday, November 4, 2016

Blood Under a Thumbnail

It's the dark lake under the ice.
It's the reminder-in-residence
of pain and of an accident
that called you "Fool!"
It's the risible badge
of an apprentice carpenter,
and the mark of death
on a doomed slate
of the keratin matrix.
It's a fact that laughs at philosophy.

hans ostrom 2016

Floating Windows

Like you, I've noticed windows without buildings,
ghost panes floating above city streets.
Local officials sometimes gather to argue
about how to get them washed, and would it
be a union job? Boosters plot
a Floating Pane Festival.

Local professors challenge the physics,
opposing plain sight. Like you,
I'm thankful that these hovering frames
of glass are at least something fresh
and new, for the city is, like all cities,
a weary site of congealed geometries
covering underground rivers of liquid dung.

hans ostrom 2016

Monday, October 31, 2016

Chess Teachings

This is just to confirm that a dance
is more pleasurable than a fist fight.

Geometry likes to stretch.

If the Queen is close by,
do not deny it

Death is death. The end
of a game is not death.

Never get angry at a machine
if you know where the off switch is.
And even if you don't.

Follow a method until
the first surprise.  Then stay
calm, look at your surroundings,
and make a judgement.

If you're healthy, you're winning.

Play with the person.
Play against the person's symbols.

Always have food and water on hand,
if you can.

Remember to breathe.

Neither a flag nor a game
is more important than
a roof that doesn't leak.

Hurry less, fret less, and smile more.

Always know ahead of time
what you're going to do after
the game and why.

hans ostrom 2016

The Way of the Manatee

I gather manatees like to swim,
float, ogle, eat lettuce, fart,
be in/make a family, and sleep.

This represents a simplistic
but not altogether unworkable
approach to living life on Earth.

hans ostrom 2016

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Marcella Hazan's Minestrone Recipe

It seems to be getting difficult to find minestrone soup, let alone good minestrone soup, in Italian restaurants.  Another First World problem.

Minestrone is probably a little too "country," or at least insufficiently hip, for most menus.

This is the best recipe for minestrone I know--Marcella Hazan's.  MH was Julia Child's go-to person for Italian recipes, if that matters.  Of course, if you're just wanting to throw together a minestrone, and especially if you have a vegetable garden of some kind, you can improvise on the recipe.  For example, I've substituted Swiss chard for the cabbage, and sometimes I throw a few leaves of kale in there. I prefer Yukon gold potatoes.


    • • 1 lb Zucchini
    • • 1/2 cup Olive Oil
    • • 3 Tbs Butter
    • • 1 cup Onion, sliced very thin
    • • 1 cup Carrots, diced
    • • 1 cup Celery, diced
    • • 2 cups Potatoes, peeled & diced
    • • 1/2 lb Green Beans
    • • 3 cups shredded Cabbage
    • • 1 1/2 cups canned Cannellini Beans, drained
    • • 4 cups Beef Broth
    • • 2 cups Water
    • • Parmesan Rind
    • • 2/3 cup canned Plum Tomatoes, with juice
    • • 1/3 cup Parmesan, grated


    1. • 1 Soak the zucchini in a large bowl of water at least 20 minutes. Drain and dice fine. Soak the green beans in water, drain, trim and dice. • 2 In a large stockpot, mix the oil, butter and sliced onion. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook until onion wilts and becomes pale gold, but not darker. • 3 Add the diced carrots and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Then add the celery and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Add the green beans and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Add the shredded cabbage and cook for another 5 to 6 minutes. • 4 Add the broth, water, cheese rind, and tomatoes with juice. Salt very lightly. Stir thoroughly. Cover the pot, and lower the heat to simmer. • When the soup has cooked 2 1/2 hours, add the drained cannellini beans. Stir and cook another 30 minutes. Just before serving, remove the cheese rind. Swirl in the grated cheese and season with salt and pepper. Note: While one vegetable is cooking, peel and cut up another.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Words Words

Words is a good word, a knotted morpheme.

Words look a lot like cinders.  Bits of black
and gray settled on paper, floating on screens.

Sometimes words sound like water
quarreling with piers at a quay.

We ask too much of words.  They go
along with it, fooling us into fooling ourselves.

These are a few more words rising, floating.

hans ostrom 2016

Friday, October 21, 2016

Ballpark Figures


He or she has just discovered the North Pole
and, behind the back, holds a snowball,
glowering down at the world.


The amalgam.
Body, a badger's.
Face, a prisoner's.
Legs, a knight's.
One arm, a deaf person's.
The other arm, a crab's.


An angry parent
yelling at the kids,
who just want to play.


Three deer graze in a meadow.
A shot rings out.
They raise their heads.
They're on the move.

First Base:

A hometown kid.
Rarely leaves the house
but entertains a lot.


A rookery.
One bird leaves.
The others rearrange themselves.


Wildflowers on a terraced slope.
Blotches of paint.
A chorus of bees.

Third Base:

This one guards a thin white line.
An accountant.
Foul or fair. Profit or loss.

Second Base:

The bull charges.
The bullfighter whirls and leaps.


Holds dual citizenship.
Travels a lot.
Rents, doesn't own.
Not a joiner.


An evangelist.

Base Coaches:

Performance artists,
gossips, and hired applauders.

Pitching Coach:

A lachrymose intermediary.


When they arise from the basement,
it means trouble has come.
Adults forced to wear children's clothes.


An ant with vocal chords,
   a singing ant.
A book with feathers,
  a bird book.
A crocodile with goose-bumps,
  a cold croc.
A drill without bits,
  an ornamental drill.
An elephant with shoes,
 a shod god.
A farmer in bed,
  a tired farmer.
A ghost with a cold,
  a coughing ghost.
A hat on a bench,
  a lost hat.
An island with a flag,
  a patriotic island.
A jar with a label,
  a designated jar.
A knee in motion,
  a kinetic knee.
A lion with a tail,
  a regulation lion.
A map in a drawer,
  a safe map.
A nail in a cross,
  an allusive nail.
An octopus with a pocket watch,
  a promptopus.
A pear with a stem,
  a picked pear.
A quail on a rock,
  a standing quail.
A rock in an airplane,
  a flying rock.
A salmon with a suitcase,
  a traveling salmon.
A tree on fire,
  an illuminating tree.
An uncle with a nephew,
  a legit uncle.
A violin in a refrigerator,
  a chilled fiddle.
A woman with a woman,
  two women.
A xylophone in a library,
  a dangerous xylophone.
A yam in a market,
  an available yam.
A zoo with a dinosaur,
  a zoo you never knew.

hans ostrom 2016

Ego Insurance

Next time, I'll buy insurance
for my ego. Then if it should
be crushed in a ruinous affair
or cracked in aspirational failure,

the Insurer will present me
with compensation--
perhaps a cup of Swedish coffee,
a kind word, or a small award:

Totally Insignificant Person of the Week.

hans ostrom 2016

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Note to Shelf

Note to shelf:
keep up the good books.
I like their looks,
if I do so say myself.

hans ostrom 2016

What They Took Out and Kept In

They took the tele out phone
and the roll out of rock, replacing
it with alt, which they also added
to Control + Delete so a PC or
a Mac could get back on its feet.

They done took the paper out
of news and ripped the promise
out of compromise. Yep, they kept
race in political races because
of their bad White habits.

They kept the greed in agreed.
I wish they'd take the they
out of they and replace it
with we, but I just don't see
that happening real soon.

hans ostrom 2016

Poem for Strings and Saxophone

Yes, saw those attached stretched tendons. Make 'em yowl,
make 'em bleat, make them sweet. For you know
the playing is work: how many muscles in the hands,
wrists, back, and neck? How much instant discernment
in memory, eyesight, and ear-hearing? Now

your neurotransmitters need a break, so let
a saxophone stride in wearing a gold suit,
black shirt, and Falun red tie. Yes, please,
let the horn raise the subject of a steak-thick
fold of cash caught in a worn money-clip.

Bring them together now, brass
and class, robust and refined, all
intertwined.  The music ought
to be serious, funny, subtle, and crude
like something from that Satie dude.

hans ostrom 2016

Monday, October 10, 2016

Transformation: Tourist

He arrived by phone
at his destination
and immediately began
slamming into local
culture.  He attached
guide books to his torso
to create armor. Soon

he settled into doing
the things he did back
home, except he was
doing them in wherever
he was which was
"a land of contrasts."

Otherwise, he bought
things, threw things
away, kept the drapes
closed, sweated a lot,
and sank into depression.
Fascinating trip.

hans ostrom 2016

Transformation: Accountant

At the accountant's, I enter
a small room stacked with numbers.
It's a math cupboard. An assistant

deducts me from this box
to escort me to an office
where the desk is as sleek

as a panther. Someone
behind it plays a sonata
on an abacus. She wears

a tailored gray suit
with a fringe of bumble bee
fur. When the music 

of calculation ends, she says,
"Repeat after me: I owe,
and I don't owe."  "I

oh, and I don't oh,"
I say, adding, "may I pay
you in dreams?"  She says no.

hans ostrom 2016

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Transformation: Sea Creature

When I become a sea creature,
I become larger than I already am.
I am alone and wet. I breathe water
and don't drown. I talk into it,
the water, and listen to myself.

I can't see well far but can see
clearly on both sides of me.

Eat, swim, eliminate. Catch
a show of iridescent fish.

Sometimes I lie down,
moving with, against,
and inside sleep, which
is like the sea except
inside of me.

hans ostrom 2016

See also "Sea Monster"

Monday, October 3, 2016

Particular Thief

"With more data, suspected new particle vanishes." Science News, 3 September 2016, p. 13

If scientists had long suspected
the particle, why didn't they take
more precautions? They left more
data in plain sight. The particle
vanished, taking data with it.

This wasn't a case of quantum
hiding, a small physics joke,
or a Schrödinger shuffle. No.
This was theft. Obviously,

the particle thought more data
would reveal too much about
its identity. What exactly
was it trying to keep secret?
Perhaps crimes against
other particles. Maybe a particularly
unsavory past. Hard to say.

hans ostrom 2016

Friday, September 30, 2016

Transformation: Boss

When I become a boss, I suffer
loss of identity.  Blood pressure up,
humility suppressed. When I delegate
and said delegatees don't follow through,
what do I do?  I do the work myself,
I will not fire, I will not plead. I
tempt myself to put up a sign that reads
"Dear Everyone: Do your fucking job.
Thanks! --The Boss." I hate
that they hate me as they must
when I'm just a boss. So I stage

a coup-de-mois, step down, get out,
and return to my back-bench, edge-
of-circle, agitating ways. My news
is old: anti-authoritarians ought not
to boss. Shame on them for making
me one, shame on me for grabbing
that seductive baton.

hans ostrom 2016

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Grendel's Agent

My client's one of the
earliest antagonists
to show up in Western
Lit., and you're offering
scraps? How dare you
low-ball a bankable,
A-List monster! Plus,
I can get you the Mother
and B-Wulf!

hans ostrom 2016

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Transformation: Professor

When I'm a professor, I pass by colleagues
who have plotted my death a time or two.
I like to keep my feelings hard and polished.

Other people  follow me so they can ask me questions
aimed either at tripping me up (call it
the eternal dissertation-defense) or finding
out if I accept late work. I lose my keys.

Feeling around for them in a pocket
of a tweed coat, my hand touches
dead butterflies, paper clips, and
sawdust. I sit myself in the sun
like a house plant, for I just want
to know things, I am so very weary
of being responsible for knowing things.

But then. (O, Transition!) Then
I see students walking, talking
in the sun next to brick buildings
near green trees.  Regardless
of who they are and where they
come from, I see in their affect

one thing I know for sure: a
knowledge-quest is the very best
of all human adventures, and to be
young amidst that quest is to feel
(oh, yes, I remember) as if your
mind can grasp all things.

hans ostrom 2016


A shadow hands you a book
and walks away. You open
the book to a middle page,
where you read, "The good idea
of 'America' died from complications
related to the disease of White
Supremacy. You're living in the
funeral." You close the book,
turn, and see a million shadows
and more rushing toward you.

hans ostrom 2016

Friday, September 16, 2016

Beware the Troubled Aged

People worry about "troubled youth."  Okay, fine.
They should save their alarm for the troubled
aged.  Who travel in gangs demanding help
with digital technology. Who form squads

of know-it-alls wearing funny hats. Who
tell you when their nation was great
but never specify how.  And they protest--
clogging cities worldwide, carrying signs

like "Kill Time," "We Still Like Sex" (the horror),
and "What Do We Want?--We Can't Remember!"
It's real, it's dangerous, and it's coming
to your town. I say the aged should

love it or leave it, cut their remaining hair,
get a job (again), work within the system,
and turn down their goddamned music.
Let's make this country young again.

hans ostrom 2016

Transformation: Lawyer

When I visit a lawyer, stacks of paper
turn into thunderheads that rain ink
on my fear of litigation. All the clocks
read a quarter past dollar signs.

The attorney is a wizard, albeit
gowned in a tailored suit. She
owns a map to the labyrinth
I am about to enter. She hypnotizes

me with legal mantras, and I
wake up moored to the prisoner's dock.

hans ostrom 2016

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Transformation: Doctor

When I visit a physician, I become a martyr,
forced to wear a backless tunic. Large white
spiders crawl all over my body, touching,
probing, tapping. Then flies swarm
around my head, each with a number painted
on its back. Then the needles. At last
I'm sent down into a dungeon of potions
and sacrificed to constant worry.

hans ostrom 2016

Transformation: Dentist

When I visit a dentist, I become a coyote.
My yips turn into howls. The moon sits
just above me, shining into a cave called
Mouth, and here comes the huntress,
my nemesis, with her quills and knives.
Her masked face blocks the moonlight.

hans ostrom 2016

Chew Your Words

Risible syllables, oracular spectacles,
and vivid vineyard spectra: the mouth
is mouthing words like lozenges today.

The tongue's a dancing master that
undulates the floor, making phonemes
and morphemes stagger in chaography,

salubriously salivaed. Enjoy your words
today, my friends who are strangers,
inveterate re-arrangers.  Roll them

around, chew 'em up, wad them in a cheek,
let them drool out then suck them back.
Open your mouth and take a peek:

nothing there but air, ivory, red-pink
cave-walls, and that writhing slug
of a mischievous tongue:

connoisseur, conductor, meaning-
                                           making muscle.

hans ostrom 2016

Monday, September 12, 2016

Fantastic New App Lets People Talk to Each Other

There's this new app, fantastic,
that allows your phone to converse
with another person's phone.
Or several phones may chat
in a mingling group. Of course,
the phones have a lot to talk about--
a bad night's sleep-mode, soreness
from data-storage, the stress
of being shifted to another plan.

Anyway, while the phones talk,
you and another person or you
and several people may do whatever
you want together, including talk.  It'll be
great because your phones won't
be there. So for instance you
can focus your eyes on the other
person, and your fingers
and thumbs won't have to dance
frenetically like a weaving spider's legs.
I'm telling you it's an amazing app.

hans ostrom 2016

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Scourge of Poem-Abandonment

Last night, the City’s Literature Squad picked up
hundreds of poems that had been abandoned on the streets.
The poems are being held in a detention center
pending a hearing about necessary revisions
and poem ownership.  When they are identified,

creators who cruelly dumped their poems
face controversial new fines imposed by the City.
Speaking on condition of anonymity (as well as
obscurity), one creator said, “What am supposed
to do–let some loser poem of mine hang
around the place forever?”

hans ostrom 2016

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Vampire Blues

Don't want to be a vampire anymore.
Don't want to be a vampire no more.
I'm sick to death of vampirin'--
That's for sure. 

My teeth are dull,
My skin is pale.
I sleep all day
Like I'm in jail.

The coffin stinks,
And blood tastes bad.
The vampire films
Just make me sad.

Don't want to be a vampire anymore.
Don't want to be a vampire no more.
I'd like to be just human--
That's for sure. 

I wear black capes
And fear sunlight.
I want to surf
And dress in white.

When you're a beast,
It's hard to date.
Yes, I can change.
It's not too late.

Don't want to be no vampire anymore.
No, don't want to vampire anymore.
I want to have some fun
And lose the gore. 

copyright 2016 hans ostrom 

Concerning Fools

It's hard work being a fool. Ask
Shakespeare.  Oops, he's dead.
It's a calling, being a fool.
At the wrong times, you

have to be sincere, insincere,
right, wrong, inept, graceful,
knowing, naive, too young,
too old , , , Just too, okay?

You have to be willing
to spend a lifetime mismatched
to places, events, people,
clothes, customs, and situations.

That said, the world depends
upon fools: progress, false pride,
comedy, serendipity, art, and science
all rely on fools.  Oh,

what bullshit.  What a dumbass
thing to say. What kind of
fool do I take you for?  See
what I mean? Too too.

hans ostrom 2016

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Risings

Daniel's rising
up above the street.
The hot, crowded street,
hard and lethal.
Daniel's rising.

Rosario's rising
up above the huts
made of iron sheets,
cardboard, wood.
Rosario's rising.

Is it spirit?
Is it matter?
Is it a horrible,
factual hell?

Is it love,
is it greed,
is it power?
Who can tell?

Tula's rising,
up above the traps
they've set for her,
these men, these men.
Lord, Tula's rising.

It is love,
it is greed,
it is power,
though each
in a different
not enough,
too much.

As you rise,
think of the risen,
think of the rose.
Think of freedom,
all dues, all
invoices paid.

hans ostrom 2016

Honeybees and Glass

Poems are composed on glass
that only seems to be translucent
beyond which airborne honeybees
meander in a No-Time without
language. Some poems pretend
to see the honeybees.

hans ostrom 2016

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Collecting Time

I keep weeks in closets,
months in a rented garage.

I've misplaced a crucial week
from June 1979.  I can't count
the number of other weeks
I've never gotten my hands on.

Somehow I ended up
with someone's else's
January 1826.  It may well
be my favorite piece.

I had a chance to bid
on a fortnight from 1902,
but three days were missing.

People ask me, they say
why do you collect different
units of time? I wish I had
a good answer. Some day

I'll do something with all
these weeks and months.
In the meantime,
I need to find more space
for all this time.

hans ostrom 2016

Friday, August 26, 2016

Always One More

There's always one more, you know. One
more problem, pain, opportunity, pleasure.
Another nail, bolt, squirt of toothpaste, surprise.
And another acceptance required.

One more blackberry or tomato to pick,
one more spud in the dirt. Another task,
chore, duty. Oh, yes, one more good
idea, atavistic evil notion, phase

of healthy cultural growth. Another
star, pickle, song. One more
word, glance of understanding, heart break.
Until there isn't. But then there is.

hans ostrom 2016

Monday, August 22, 2016

Better and Best

Better to be lucky than good. Better
to be good than middling, middling
than bad. Better to be pragmatic than
pure, sensible than righteous. Better
to have good shoes than bad, bad shoes
than none. Better to be housed than
homeless. Better to consider people
without than people with and than
only you and your own if you have.
Better to do it than to write of it,
best to do both.

hans ostrom 2016

The Question and Answer Portion of the Evening

I could go for you in a really big way,
he said to her. It wasn't subtle, and
it was not hip. Thank you for sharing
your perspective, she said to him.
It wasn't rude, and it was droll.

Shall I leave you alone, then? he
said to her. It was polite. It was not
clever. Yes, you shall, but not right
now, unless of course you want to go.
It was permission. It was restrained.

What shall we do, then, what shall
we say? he said to her. Excellent
questions, she said to him.
He was confused.  She
was bemused.

hans ostrom 2016

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Little Molecular Traveling Music

A handful of molecules moved around
the universe this one time. Long story
shrunk, they became "me."  (In
photographs the quotation marks
are invisible.) Lots of them get

replaced in the usual organismic
way, plus haircuts, etc. Soon and
very soon, all molecules that account
for "me" will be released back to
the universe at large, and what

a large it is. They'll keep on
moving, as if they'd merely
paused at a roadside diner.
A little molecular traveling
music, if you please, maestro.

hans ostrom 2016

Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking?

Are you thinking what I'm
thinking? I hope not. It makes
more sense to divide the thinking
labor. I'll think about clean water
while you think about recordings
by Gil Scott Heron. You'll
think about the struggle against
racism in your community,
and I'll think about a feather.
You: rotten fruit. Me: nuclear
holocaust.  (These are just
examples, not directives.)
Of course, we're both free
(we hope) to attend think-the-
same-thoughts-party later,
although it seems those can
get a little cultish. Whatever
you do, don't think about
a red onion. Oops, oh no!

hans ostrom 2016

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

In a Lobby of a Cinema Complex

This complex isn't simple. Figures
strolling across a neon-glossy floor
toward theater-caves, bathrooms, or
sugar and salt: they and I
are already dead--like people
photographed by cinema in 1939.
And we've been replaced by others
who move about here just as we do,
we did. Maybe one of them

is morbid, or at least fatalistic,
and feels for a moment as if time
has already departed, leaving
behind only light on a screen
flickering imperceptibly
and kernels of corn exploded
into tiny thunderheads. Before
going into the movie, I think
this scene may be the better movie.

hans ostrom 2016

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Elegy for Richard Hugo

Elegy for Richard Hugo


You said to wait ten years before
trying to write an elegy about someone
who just died. I waited more than three times
that. No doubt it's not enough.

So, something here about a lake's face
changing--ripple, riffle, wrinkle; you
said never use semicolons. (I’m kidding
a kidder.) "Be glad to fish
with you sometime," you wrote in

in the one letter to me, "but I warn you,
I'm strictly a bait fisherman.” If that
were on Twitter now, I'd favorite (a verb, sir)
it and tweet back, No worries. You
haven't missed much. Let's say

a man sits on a rock. He's connected
to a lake, call it Saw Lake, by a fishing
line. He's not really waiting for anything.
He’s drinking beer. A hit, a strike, would be fine,
a rousing thing. Just over the ridge
doesn't lie a town. That's why

nobody's heard of it. I will say
women and men who work at the factory
there return from a women's softball
game, someone won, who cares. Now
everybody will wash their hair, their bodies,
put on clean jeans, heave on the nice
boots, and go out and dance and drink
and kiss and hug and fight. The

man on the rock has seen the rusted
iron roofs of just that town. He
wonders if he should call them rooves.
The lake tugs him away from words

but not for long. "There you go," he says.

Hans Ostrom copyright 2016

Thursday, July 14, 2016


Commercials: adjectives packaged
as nouns, petty crimes committed
against ears and eyes, sometimes
full-on felony assaults paid for
by deepest vaults.

The White Supremacist cable
not-news shows raise volume
high, highest for commercials,
concussing brains to soften them up
for propaganda. Don't buy. Don't buy.

hans ostrom 2016

You Haven't Earned a Prize

When you're White, and you learn
things and as they say get your
consciousness raised enough
by the jack called the-way-things-are-
and-have-always-been, you end up
losing friends and not really wanting
to hang around many White folks
much because disgust and rage
are exhausting.

If your view gets raised a little more,
you won't feel sorry for yourself,
you'll understand, why Black folks
really don't want to hang around you,
whether it's personal or not.

It's not like you're awareness
is anything more than the minimal
thing to achieve, and it's not like
you've somehow earned the prize
of their company.  Solitude

and isolation, boo-hoo, tough shit.
Your modest discomfort doesn't
even register on the scale of pain
to which the colonies and the United States
dedicated and still dedicate themselves.
You've probably heard the saying:
Many White people fear a race war;
most Black people, like their forebears,
continue to try to survive in one.

hans ostrom 2016

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Adam's Song

I'm eating dried figs,
am very depressed.
I'm totally naked but
feel like I'm dressed.

There's no one to compare
Eve to. She's nice.
Today I named some little
creatures "mice."

Sometimes my body changes
when I see Eve.
When she touches the change
I never want to leave.

I have this feeling something
bad will happen soon.
I don't know why.
I asked the moon.

The moon talks to me in ways
the sun will not.
The moon is very cool and
the color of my snot.

The moon said, "Things happen,
things change.
And God may disarrange what
God arranged."

I am Adam. This is
my own weird song.
If you're passing through
Eden, sing along.

hans ostrom 2016

I Was Asked to Pass This Along

Poetry's using language
in unofficial ways, including
re-purposing official language.

Sometimes poetry bosses
and poetics conglomerates
make their poetry way official.

They try, anyway. When this
happens, it should signal to poets
to write otherwise. Poetry

is otherwise. It's an attitude
toward language and authority
as much as anything else.

Anyway, someone asked me
to pass these notes along. To
whom? Not sure. Goodbye.

hans ostrom 2016

New Day 3.0

Reset the day. Use the control panel
Or download a new day. Run as
administrator. Scan for viruses--
narcissism, bigotry, willful ignorance.
You can probably get a free night
with any day you download.
Check your memory. Can it handle
a new day? Having problems with
the day software? Eh, we don't
handle that. Try contacting other users.

hans ostrom 2016

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Castle

I built you a castle, using a castle kit. I
staffed it with people who'd worked
in a castle before, castlexperts.

I lived there a while to see what it
was like. The staff were rude. The
British use the plural "were" with "staff."

Anyway, I let the staff go, which is
castle-speak for firing them. I live
alone in the castle now.

I like doing so rather excessively.
I couldn't bear to live in it with
someone else, even you.

So I'm going to move out
and give you the castle. Americans
use "gift" as a verb. Life is a process.

hans ostrom 2016

Monday, June 27, 2016

Four Questions About the Future

How sophisticated does any
creature's mind have to be
to conceive of Future? Was
there an evolutionary ad-
vantage to imagining Future
and oneself in it? When
they were hiding from God
in the brush after complications
arose, how did Eve and Adam
discuss Future? What are you
going to do tomorrow?

hans ostrom 2016

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Lot's wife, unnamed in the Bible,
at long last unsalted, has her say:

"I looked back. It's a human
response, a habit not without
practical merit I got salted
because of some arbitrary,
impractical order, and
without naming me they
named a stone pillar after me.

I'm a mother. You don't think
I knew we had to leave the city?
Who do you think got the kids
ready and packed? Not Lot.

For Christ's sake (thinking
prospectively), let's have less
drama, catastrophe, and
excessive, gratuitous extortion
and a lot more common sense.

You need to salt a fleeing woman
to get your goddamned point
across.  What was your point?
Yeah, I know what the write-up
says. I'm talking about for real.
Admit it. You over-reacted."

hans ostrom 2016

Park and Fly

At the place with the sign that read
"PARK AND FLY" people were parking
their cars, getting out, and flying.

A lot of them roosted in trees
nearby. Up there they tore through
their baggage and briefcases,

grabbing paper, pencils, and wires
I guess to build nests with. Some
people perched on roofs

and huddled shoulder to shoulder,
cheeping or cooing. I think they
just wanted to get away from their

jobs kids pets companions husbands
wives partners televisions poverty
depression phones & asexual routines.

Anyway it was quite a thing, and it
made for an awful commute,
selfish of them really.

hans ostrom 2016

Monday, June 20, 2016

Nutritious, Too

It was a little bistro, as I recall, located
somewhere between Sierra City, California,
and Istanbul. "Tabula Rasa" was the name.
Minimalist dining. Never to be found using
GPS. Somehow they block the signal.

Minimalist dining. No decorations.
Simple wooden tables. Two kinds of soup,
one kind of bread, olive oil. One type
of salad, one entree. No specials.
Water and/or vodka. Table white, table red.

Servers wore white aprons and did
not reveal their names.  They opened
the conversation with philosophical
questions, such as, "Is language
a medium of deception?" (I think
I answered, "It depends." )

Ten different desserts, three ports,
several brandies and scotches.
Absinthe. It kind of sneaks up on you,
a place like that. Impressions are made
on your senses. Things about a bistro
of this nature catch in memory's webbing.

Yeah, and after the kitchen closed,
the dancers came out. The lighting
changed.  Tables disappeared. Short
surrealist films appeared on the walls.
I think of it now as a transformative
dining experience.

hans ostrom 2016

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Candelabra in a Desert

Like a candelabra stuck in desert sand,
I wonder what my purpose is. Like
a coin made by the previous empire,
I wonder what I'm worth. Like a stray
cat in a cold alley, I wonder if I'll
ever be wanted again. Like a statue
opposite the Bureau of Statistics,
I'm facing facts. Like a traveler

picked clean by thieves, I have
nothing to trade for that old feeling
of being interesting, desired,
caressable. Like a hermit, I close
a door on all this silly yearning
and read until I fall asleep.
Sleep it seems will still accept me.

hans ostrom 2016



Boxes full of possibilities
when emptied. Cupboards
or bookshelves for
the lean of budget.


So much packaging
So much printed matter
Bag inside box
So much surreal imagery
Just to deliver cooked grain and sugar.


Two empty produce boxes
fight in an alley,
slamming their rectangled
cardboard together, trying
to cut each other with corners.

A dishwasher comes out
for a smoke-break,
clothes damp from water
and grease, and separates them.
"What's this all about?"
is the dishwasher's question.
The boxes, they/re not saying anything.


Our parents didn't go in
for lunch boxes painted
Disney or Wyatt Earp.
They sent us to school
with silver or black lunch pails
shaped like barns. The idea
was schoolwork. I think they
were in a hurry to make us old.


Black box, bottom of the ocean,
holds its secrets like sinister jewelry.
Malfunction, malevolence, murder?
why why why why why why
cheeps the beacon, voice of the

hans ostrom 2016

Fast Food

An apple really moves when
you get a good grip
and put your weight behind the throw.
Better though to save or eat it.

If you're hallucinating
mildly, cups of tea and bowls of soup
can shift positions in a room--
like that! Nobody knows why.

When you think about it,
frozen peas are like hardened pixels
exploding out of a pointillist painting.
When you think a little more,
they don't seem like that at all.

Did you see how fast that
sausage was going? That's
German engineering, my friend.
Nothing like it.

hans ostrom 2016

Sunday, June 12, 2016

How To Fix the Humanities in Higher Education

It’s a true fact that in the U.S., the humanities division of higher education is in trouble.  Students are voting with their feet and staying away from history and English and other humanistic venues.
I’d like to take a moment to address the problem in a way that most humanities professors and administrators do not seem to emphasize and, in some cases, reject.  It’s called practicality.

In one practical move, the humanities need to go back to classical basics, except I’m not talking about teaching Greek and Latin and rehashing what used to be the grand narrative of Western Civilization.  Many Greek and Roman thinkers and teachers (the categories are not necessarily exclusive) were empiricists and nascent social scientists.  Aristotle’s writings on rhetoric reveal a mind keenly aware of how public discourse functions, how political arguments get put together, and so on.  Whereas many English Departments and colleges farm out the teaching of rhetoric to graduate students and adjuncts, Aristotle embraced it as essential.  I doubt if he’d have much time for most of what the Modern Language Association represents. 

At my own university, the English Department decided to manipulate the notion of “writing across the curriculum,” which was never meant as a replacement for first-year composition, and have the faculty at-large teach in the form of “first-year seminars.”  One problem, of course, is that writing really isn’t getting taught the way it should be, in most cases.  I don’t blame the faculty who have taken on the seminars.  I blame English for jettisoning their responsibility—not just English at my school, but English across the profession.  A second problem is that those students who once became interested in the humanities by means of a first-year composition course now never have the opportunity. A third problem is that enrollments in English courses have plummeted. Of course. 

So my first suggestion is to re-embrace rhetoric, not just at the first-year composition level, but also with new courses in public and political discourse.  In an age when these two areas of communication are undergoing revolutions, English departments are sitting on their hands.  It’s ludicrous.
My second suggestion is to find out, in detail, why students are walking and wheeling away from humanities.  Hire social scientists, if necessary, or even if it’s not necessary, for we know how humanities types love their confirmation bias. I know I do. 

I’d be delighted to be proved wrong by data, but my moderately informed guess is that students will take ethnic studies classes in history and literature even if most of them may not choose to major in such disciplines.  African American and Latino Studies classes at my university continue to attract a lot of students, even as enrollments in English plummet. It makes sense, at least on first glance, for just as public/political discourse is undergoing a revolution, conflict and cooperation between and within ethnic groups is another area undergoing revolution.  Why wouldn’t students—of all ethnicities—energized by Black Lives Matter and related events and conditions be interested in ethnic studies courses that dovetail with these phenomena?

Think of students as citizens.  That is how Aristotle and Quintillian thought of them—if you feel the need to seek classical approval.  The original seven liberal arts were rooted in civil practicality.  That’s why they included arithmetic, rhetoric, and music.  How beneficial it would be for students to learn how the blues, for example, massively influenced later genres of popular music but also the American culture at large. Ethnic studies courses—in a variety of humanities departments—think of students as citizens, too, he wrote, climbing on his hobby horse one last time.

Yes, that’s right, I’m invoking the call for relevant courses that arose in the 1960s.  No, I’m not suggesting that colleges base their humanities curricula on whatever students deem relevant.  I am suggesting that colleges look at what’s happening in society, how young people are responding to some of what’s happening, and adjust accordingly.  Besides, ethnic studies have come of age.  Texts are more widely available than ever.  The scholarship and pedagogy are seasoned. 

If, in English, it’s creative writing students want to take, then offer it—in the forms of poetry, fiction, and screenwriting, among others.  Offer playwriting.  Teach journalism. Teach blogging. Teach magazine-writing, including online magazines (obviously).  These are all opportunities to refine critical thinking and sharpen writing in general.  If you, personally, recoil from such courses, then hire someone else to teach them.  Keep teaching what you teach, but get out of the way. Please.

I don’t want to drift too far from the main point of my second suggestion, however.  Get empirical. Find out what students are interested in academically and why.  Make some adjustments based on the data. You don’t need to burn your dissertation (although you should stop trying to teach it) or give up on your pet critical and cultural-studies theories.  Just suspend your beliefs and find out what’s really going on. If necessary, respect your youngers, a radical concept, I know. 

Finally, I’d suggest reaching out across disciplines and campuses to find unlikely partners.  When I served briefly as the director of the writing center at U.C. Davis (about a hundred years ago), we were interested in pairing upper-level writing courses with courses across the curriculum.  I  made cold-calls to many departments and asked if they’d be interested in a partnership.  I vividly remember picking up the desk phone and calling someone in in wildlife science.  Pretty soon a writing course taught to students in that field materialized.

I’m not suggesting that anyone ought to turn the cold call into the primary mode of reviving the humanities, although it couldn’t hurt.  It’s probably more practical and workable for people in the humanities to reach out across their own campuses, to walk or wheel or drive to other departments and start with a tabula rasa, asking how you might collaborate with business departments & schools, education departments, engineering, sciences, and social sciences.  Teach all kinds of professionally applicable writing and socially vibrant literature courses. 

Be peripatetic. Get over yourselves.  Get out there and mix with students and colleagues.  Attend conferences outside your specialty and outside humanities.  Go on the road, see what’s what.  Ask questions (not rhetorical ones).  Shut up and listen. Revive the humanities brick by empirical, grounded, socially alert, sometimes old fashioned (rhetoric), innovative brick.