Friday, December 29, 2017

Remember, You Know?

To know, remember.
Remember to know.
December and snow:
Remember? September,

remember, is a different
month, and November's
hardly a June. So
long ago. So long, Ago!

Words are diplomats
They mean to know.
All are members
of the Memory Chateau.

hans ostrom 2017

Absent Sister

Sister I never had, I miss you--
rather formally. I know
you would have taught me
important things and listened.

Maybe right over there
in Anti-Matter, you live
and I live; or you live and
I am the brother you never had.

hans ostrom 2017

Thursday, December 14, 2017

She Looks Good

She looks good
in a mirror.
She looks good
in a bed.
Looks fine in
a forest,
and alluring
in my head.

She looks splendid
in the Spring,
intriguing in
the rain.
She looks smart
in a debate
and languid
in a lane.

There's an essence
in her presence,
which distracts
and then attracts.
To be drawn
to her is
to be invited
past mere facts.

hans ostrom 2017

Of Time and the Prairie

There's a lot of prairie
under all those cities.
It isn't waiting--that's
a sad human thing. It
is, however, prepared--
ready for any histories
that come along to replace
the previous ones.

hans ostrom 2017

So Many Surfaces

He went there for the job.
Stayed there for the duration.
Now his ambition has gone,
migrating one way.

He takes great interest
in what is there, in which
here is embedded:
the surfaces of the world

beyond the body, but also
his mind's interior terrain.
The meaning of what's there,
here, is beyond naming,

The surfaces, the terrain--
they mean what
they are, and from
a certain angle, no more.

hans ostrom 2017

Monday, December 11, 2017

I Am a Native of Earth

You tell me I seem as if
I'm not from Earth. You
tell me I am an alien
and wish to see my documents.
(I have so many documents--
please specify.)

Sadly for you, certain
verified claims of physics
and biology confirm
my native status.

Yes, that's right, you
may infer that we are all,
that they who lived and
shall live are all, Earth Natives.

Our segregations, degradations,
and depravities seem
to spring from a different premise,
one I can see you share--
you with that supreme look
of deranged identity in your eyes.

hans ostrom 2017

Ice Hockey

They are painters on skates,
brushing and dabbing the cold canvas
on which they glide and whirl.

They are sleep-walkers
in colorful pajamas, wandering
on the bright stage of a dream,
everyone else in darkness,
looking on, fascinated.

They are hornets and wasps
in dubious and snarling battle,
released in groups from their
nests, terribly distracted by one
black fly that moves among
them imperviously.

hans ostrom 2017

A You You Can Believe In

"Victor Hugo was a madman
who believed himself to be Victor Hugo,"
said Jean Cocteau, except in French.

Take heed: Cocteau and Vic
showed the way. Dream yourself
up a magnificent, protean you

that has robust self-regard,
if you haven't done so already.
Believe you are

that person. And maybe
my you will see your you
around--in Paris perhaps.

hans ostrom 2017

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

She Carries Egypt

Today she is the most beautiful one.
Egypt's in her face. What does that
mean? It must mean something.
Faces, bodies, and minds carry
their own history. You knew about that.

Her face says without saying
she carries Egypt--lightly,
calmly, confidently. She doesn't
require boldness, which is for
the nervous. Human, she's not
impervious. Only strong.
And not only strong.

hans ostrom 2017

Read and See

("Aspiration," painted by Aaron Douglas, 1936, oil on canvas, 60" x 60", Fine Arts Museum of
San Francisco)

Black chained hands rise. They have
become the shears of history and cut
through evil. Tilting, layered stars
share a central point that rests
on the right shoulder of a reading,
seeing Black woman. Read see.

Two Black men stand on an indestructable
foundation. It goes by many names.
Read and see. The men's broad
shoulders defy the past and square
up with the future. Their jaw-lines
assert. One man points through
a spectral sun at pale green towers
and 36 lit windows on a mountain. The lightning

The lightning bolt is permanent in purple
skies. It portends the death of White
Supremacy, the Master Depravity.
The men carry necessary tools,
the most necessary of which
are spirit, body, mind. Read
and see. Aspiration is a prophecy.

hans ostrom 2017

A Valediction Forbidding White Supremacy

God damn it, would you just stop?
If you really were inherently superior,
you wouldn't cling to Whiteness like a
street drunk hugging a bottle
of fortified wine.  It's a bit of a tell:
trumpet your Whiteness, admit
you're weak. Here's the thing:

nobody's White. It's just an invention,
like the Hindenburg blimp. Google
Johann Friedrich  Blumenach. Your
fantasy kills people.  Living off hate, as
you do, will kill you, too. It will
weld your arteries shut, not to
mention your mind. Get your DNA
tested. The results will show you're
from Earth like every human who's
ever lived. What a shocker.  Grow up.

hans ostrom 2017

Yawn and Stretch

Yawn and stretch
in the life of the body.
Let the exhausted mind
go off by itself and get caught
in tangled, sanguine vines.

Yawn and stretch.
Savor air, situate yourself in light
or shade. Don't ask why.
Sigh. Focus on a thing nearby,
a souvenir from the infinite universe,
let us say a stone, graffiti,
or a grimy thumb drive.

Yawn and stretch.
Let your mind believe at least
for a moment it can change
the world, that it knows
what the world is. It needs
such fictive encouragement.

hans ostrom 2017

Monday, December 4, 2017

The American Climate

It's easy to think you'll just go
to the sea (e.g.) and ignore the wreckage
wrought by these White Supremacist
huns of the American oligarchy
and its minions who are hypnotized
by vicious religion and depraved hate.

It's easy to give up, as surrender
seems like the most logical next
move, not just the most sensible
emotion. Ritually you'll talk yourself
into caring again, keeping up
childishly with current events,
polishing your opinions,
and doing something small and local.
You'll round up your usual responses.

You know though that what's happening
is hard weather from the only climate
America's ever known. For it's a
fatally flawed culture in which the
powerful flawed exact fatalities
from their customary targets,
and unrelenting on and on it goes.

hans ostrom 2017

Friday, December 1, 2017

A Composed Affair

I recall the affair
as clearly as if
it had happened a long
time ago, which it
did, but not before

starting as an impromptu,
developing into an etude,
going through a prelude
to get to some
energetic nocturnes,
with several scherzos,
rondos, and sarabands
included for good pleasure.

The affair ended
as if by composed
design, how refreshing.
The final note
was held but not
amplified or for long.

hans ostrom 2017

Allegory at Alpine Elevation

You're standing outside in the dark.
In the mountains, alpine elevation.
The cold wind's blowing hard enough
to keep the crust on the snow,
and to blur your vision, so the stars
seem momentarily to reel.

You say a word, any word,
to yourself but out loud. Wind
takes it from your mouth so fast
the word never gets fully formed.
All evidence of your having
spoken vanishes. You recognize

what has happened as the briefest
allegory about ego's status
in the flow of matter. You go
back inside. You're glad for the
warmth. Still the light and things
inside seem trivial and doomed.
You feel embarrassed for them.

hans ostrom 2017

Monday, November 20, 2017


A bed surrounds itself,
just to be sure. A bookshelf
raises questions and sells them
at the Saturday market. There
are wishes stored in cobblestones.
I have a list. Certain colors
made promises to lightning.
They lied.  Hence thunder.
This is how we talk in Knowwhere.

hans ostrom

The economic reason why tax cuts for the rich are so stupid

Catfish and Koi

There are always women
swimming in the sea somewhere.
To me this is a comforting thought.
Thoughts that comfort us move
into and out of our thinking
calmly, like catfish or koi.
It isn't necessary to catch them.
It is preferable not to.

hans ostrom 2017

Salted Desert

Desolation amidst abundance:
the United States,
permanently warped by white
supremacy, mad with virulent
greed and perverse religion,
addicted to violence, proud
of ignorance. The salted
desert of its soul grows vast.

hans ostrom 2017

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Bartok and Stars

"The ways of life are infinite and mysterious."  --Georgio Scerbanenco, Traitors to All, translated by Howard Curtis

In spite of my playing, the piano
produced a simple minuet by Bartok,
which made me think of walking
cautiously across a frozen pond.

An empty coffee cup was sitting
on the bookshelf.  Cool ceramic.
Out there, and "up," night.
And stars, which we think of

as a permanent installation,
not a chaotic map of explosions
or freckles on an infinite face.
I dream recurrently about new

stars, close and bright,
flowing past in a sky-parade
as I look up from a meadow
in mountains and watch,

thrilled and terrified. I almost
forget to breathe. Someone I can't see
says, "Words are stars. I've
told you that before."

hans ostrom 2017

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Sound-Track Goes with the Screen

They moved me to a different office
again. Nothing personal, although
they must admit I've been an unyielding
piece of grit (I said grit) in the academic
machine. Sometimes a crow

comes to the ledge outside the small
wood-framed window, three brick
stories up. Crows always know
where I am. This one looks like
a private investigator.

The office doesn't have a door.
I put up a three-panel screen
instead.  Film noir. It suggests
I can tell fortunes during office hours.
The other people up here aren't

in my department; rather, I'm
not in theirs.  What is my department?
In this tepid exile, I seem to thrive.
I prepare for class, read, write poems,
eat bananas, look online for art,

music, Oakland Raiders updates,
and arcane information. Lately
I've been listening to the wind's
long moans in the duct system.
The sound track goes with the screen.

hans ostrom 2017

every year another live show

black branch, red
leaves. brown leaves,
green branch. white
branch, gold leaves.
mottled leaves; brown branch.

and an array of variations,
deciduous improvisations.

and dancing down the street,
with ice-shoes on her feet,
comes the woman who
calls herself Winter.

hans ostrom 2017

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


The Etruscans employed fulguriators--
interpreters of lightning strikes.
Jagged, sizzling bolts wrought phrases,
injected warnings, illumined portents,
and brought the heat.  And may I say,
what a great job: Critic of Lightning.
It fuses meteorology, magic, entertainment,
theology, and serious scholarship.

There had to have been fulguriator
conferences, with newsletters (on
baked tablets) with articles like
"Towards a Theory of Lighting
Semantics," "The Neglected Importance
of Thunder," and "'Don't Sit Under
a Tree': Common Mistakes in
Fulguriation." My own

insights into lightning have been
wanting, focused on risk of wildfire,
fear of electrocution, and thoughts
of B-Horror movies. I know
I can do better, like the Etruscans.

hans ostrom 2017

Monday, October 30, 2017

Ubiquitous Opacity

In digitized society, we know
people we don't know, and we
don't know people we do know.

Things are made to seem
as if they're happening.

We're distracted from perceiving
much of what is happening.

In high definition we encounter
ubiquitous opacity.

hans ostrom 2017

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Borges Before Sleep

A problem or not with reading
Borges in bed before sleep
is that Before Sleep can
go on for decades. If you read
"The Immortal," for instance, you'll
be driven by coach across centuries
into a countryside, where  you'll
enter a baroque mansion that becomes a
labyrinthine museum of statues,
and you'll settle finally in a library
designed by Escher. You will ascend,
descend, and circulate. Plots
will spill out of your mind like tiny
spiders just hatched. The plots
grow and make webs, and you
have to go to work tomorrow,
whenever that might be.

hans ostrom 2017

Monday, October 23, 2017

You Whispered

You whispered my name.
My name enjoyed it.

You turned breath
into syllables,

and they rented my ear.
I wouldn't say I'm a fool,

per se (others may). I
would say I'm a specialized

fool working exclusively
for you, and that whisper

of yours has a certain
command of the situation.

hans ostrom 2017


Spare furnishings. Bare
beams. Spare

has an extra meaning
meaning extra.

How can a spare rib
be a spare

rib when it isn't extra
on any single envoi

of a ribbed species?
Oh, spare me. Spare

me the lecture. Spare
me please, please I

beg you. 8+ billion
of us & no spare Earth.

hans ostrom 2017

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Rational Dreamer

"By one estimate, . . . people dream through half their waking hours."
--The Atlantic, October 2017

The mind is smarter than us. It knows
living's a strain, at best. So it wants
to dream, flushing the toxins of perception
from receptors of reality.  It orders
body to sleep.  Even when

body's awake, half the time mind
goes down an alley or into a clearing,
gossips with the past, or drifts
to the edge of the crowd.

Mind is a professional and will
concentrate if necessary. But
the world is dangerous, and many
people in power are insane
and depraved, so mind likes
to keep its distance. It is perhaps
most rational when it's dreaming.

hans ostrom 2017

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"Cover Me Over," by Richard Eberhart

Awful Bog

That the U.S. president's speech
has declined into bits of blather,
a handful of flaccid bigoted prods,
and droplets of rancid smarm
sharply summarizes the state
of the nation's health. He is where
he should not be because our sense
and sensibilities continue sunk
in an awful bog.

hans ostrom 2017

Monday, October 9, 2017

Italian Coffee Pot

Caffeine priest in a silver
cassock. Octagonal alchemist.
Silver bird gargling dark steam.

It is in the pantheon of small,
essential pots that lead us
kindly into our daily labors.

It is the beloved mayor of the
stove. It is a three-part harmony
of form and function.

hans ostrom 2017

About Last Week

The old days--last week: hard not
to yearn for them, their billions
of images and messages from robots
that made them so special.

And that's not to mention
all the official depravities
pursued worldwide. And it's a
piquant era in America.

The noxious gas that fills
the nation's balloon president
leaked out and anointed the hate-
filled land. The White people

in power who can stand
between his madness and
catastrophic destruction did
not, do not.  What a time it was!

hans ostrom 2017

"August 1968," by W.H. Auden

Friday, October 6, 2017


Mind's centrifuge spins in self-defense.
Attempts to spare the core from engulfment
by noise   shocks   sales   extortions  hate;
and drowning by social media. Centrifuge

plays a centrifugue, its own idio-
synchronized music, which insulates,
and which also helps mind evade ego,
culture's target.  A not-you seems

to glide in the fugue. Glowing
multi-colored rain falls. "Starwater,"
it's called by locals, although
there is no locality.  The fogged

not-you folds itself into an unbounded
flow of other disengaged personas.
Soon sadly your non-self hears a noise,
recognizes it as name, and everything's

recalled, ego re-established.  The
spinning and its spun music cease.
Your tense sense of the world resumes.
Out of digital Hades comes the flood again.

hans ostrom 2017

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

"The Winter Pear," by William Allingham

Creature Brains

Creature brains feature
lanes nature grooved
as species moved into
spaces over time with
their accidental

Hans Ostrom 2017

Phantom Blues

I have the phantom blues.
I'm too tired to be blue.
This is what phantoms do.
They only almost have the blues.

Maybe I'll get some rest
so I can get  depressed.
Yes, that's it. I need to
feel better to feel worse.

Maybe I am a phantom.
I hadn't thought of that.
Just an old weary ghost
with an invisible hat.

Hans Ostrom 2017

Let the Maul Fall

In Fall always
use a splitting maul or an ax,
never a hatchet,
to split cut wood into kindling.

As you split and sweat, don't forget
to find the smell of sap in air.
Find a rhythm to body plus wood
plus chop; and air.
Let the maul fall,
no need to swing it. It's splitting
not chopping, after all.

Would anybody find you
if you walked back into
woods to apologize to trees?
Thoughts like this come from air
as your mind moves away
from the fall of the maul's
heavy head and blade.
Hitting a knot calls your mind back.

Find yourself done with splitting
wood, two boxes of kindling,
let's say. Wood stoves are disappearing,
they must. Culture always
chops away old days, splits
custom, finds other ways to warm itself,
finds other work to get that done.

Hans Ostrom 2017

Monday, October 2, 2017

"Att Älska" by Gunnar Ekelöf

"On Inhabiting and Orange," by Josephine Miles

Jambing Jam Jive

Jam of the berries, plums,
and sums of water, sweetness,
concoction. Jamb of a door,

a line, or a vine propelling
itself gradually toward
a window sill: vegetative

will. Jamb of the saying
when English meets French,
leaving you singing

the time-and-place blues
on a bench. Jam of aggression,
reckless and crude, forcing

parts to fit into
what's falsely trued.

hans ostrom 2017

The Vast Hall

Another group has rented
the vast hall here. We must leave.

We didn't know this day would come.
We knew a day would.

Yes, of course I'm confused
and afraid, as if I'd been hollowed

out and panic had been poured in.
I'm also greedy for more time

in this grand space. That's so small
of me.  A door will open,

and a door will close. The simplicity
of it is appalling.

hans ostrom2017

"Everything Passes and Vanishes," by William Allingham

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

"Dusk in Autumn," by Sara Teasdale


because we say because
   we try to know why,
to isolate a correlate,
   shun ones we see
to be against our picture
   frame of the world,
the notion of the world
   itself a frame,
an abstracted concrete
   rain-blur in the brain,
neurologically produced.

we speculate, and early we
   decide before
we know because we need
   to say because.

hans ostrom

Monday, September 25, 2017

Smug Shadow

When I was young, I didn't take
my shadow for granted much.
I looked for and at it. My preference
was that version roughly
proportional to my body. I felt

ludicrous when I saw the one
where my torso disappeared
and my legs grew to meet
my neck.  I hardly ever look
at my shadow now.  It just

never seemed to develop
into a major innovative
displacement of light. And
honestly, I'm tired of carrying
it around.  At the same time:

no shadow, no me.  It is
a kind of proof. Believe me,
my shadow's quite aware
that it's indispensable to my being.
It's a smug, insubstantial thing.

hans ostrom 2017

Friday, September 22, 2017

Anti-social non-media

holds promise. It might look like
sitting alone, phoneless and thinking,
which at least allows you
to imagine a country that has unfriended
racism, faved equity, pinned
knowledge, twanked twaddle
into truth, and stopped following.

As the media are mainly
a village of the damned celebrities,
it may be wise sometimes
to reduce the status of the spectacle
to that of an evening gnat that
passes by your eyes and ears-
a momentary minor whine.

hans ostrom 2017

Thursday, September 21, 2017

"Laughter," by Stephen Spender


You feel you've had
to try to fit
yourself into groups
and systems
like a hand-made part
in mass-produced machinery.

You know other people
must feel this too,
except there seems to be
less friction for
most of them, more
gliding function.

You play at envying
them to pretend
to chastise yourself.

You always think
you can be better
at joining. Yeah,
you think that.

Indeed you've archived
the many instances
of your desire to fit in,
and using "indeed" in
sentences is one of them.

You assemble conscise
internal reports
that tell of irascibility
and insufficiently
feigned adherence
to the contours of authority.

That is, times when
you were a pain in the ass,
when you wouldn't
knuckle under but
could have easily.
Should have? You
ask that now!

Down there in
dark, dank storage,
you feel judged
even by the rude
shelves and weary
boxes of your making.

Don't panic. Go upstairs
where the others are.
Mind your manners
and your mannerisms.

Chat and listen. Note
the desire to be somewhere
else but do not
act on it. The gathering
will dissolve soon
enough/not soon enough:
what's the difference?

The difference is you.

hans ostrom 2017

Party of One

A frost has settled on her smile.
Her words are crisp and cold.
You suspect she never dances,
and that's what you've been told.

You do not want to know her,
although her ways intrigue you.
Your you would not fit hers.
Her disdain would make you blue.

Think of all the times you tried
to get along, accommodate.
They were you've learned a waste of time,
like talking to an iron gate.

Maybe in fact you've lowered
your level of sociability
and must sanguinely admit
alone's good company.

hans ostrom 2017

"The Truly Great," by Stephen Spender

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Well, that's a gnarled word. Six consonants
invite tongue, teeth, larynx, lips, and roof
of mouth to a pronunciation party. Awkward!

Now, about those wood nymphs. I've invested
much time-capital in the woods, which
are always a going concern. I earned
a nymph-sighting. You'd think so, anyway.
But, no.  Just squirrels, rattlesnakes, deer . . . .

And then: nymphomaniac. That got flung
around last century. It seemed to have
expressed either male fantasies of a pulp-
fiction kind or pseudo-scientific, puritanical
indictments of women who had sex, if
they did, but that was their business,
so what the hell?  One ministry

of fishing flies goes by the nymph name,
meant to mimic gnats, mosquitoes, and other
tiny hatchers. You unhook the nymph
from the caught trout, and before you release
the fish back into flow, you think you know
what that frowning face suggests:
Is this sport-fishing really necessary?

That's the problem with mythology. Sooner
or later, it disappoints everybody, among others.

hans ostrom 2017

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Ballad of Mr. Who

A certain Mr. Who ordered
his where whated--why,
he wouldn't say.

He hired reliable whaters
trained in necessary hows,
which earned them pay.

When all the hows were done,
sad Mr. Who wished he'd kept
the whaters at bay.

Indeed he missed his otherwhere,
which his impatience had reduced
to dust of clay.

Old Who brooded about what-now.
He grew consumed with whys that led
his mind astray.

It will straggle back sometime,
somehow. Meanwhile now, Mr. Who,
he tries to pray.

hans ostrom 2017

A Quality of Cold in September

Cold no longer subtle,
as the shifts started in September
as we finished framing a house.
Hurry, get the roof on.

Cold now in September
as I clear the garden beds,
knocking loose a few last
golden potatoes and carrots
with sunburned indigo shoulders.

It's an insistent chill.  An overture
to a Winter suite. An advance-team
working for an immanent season
that bides its clime in gravitational
patterns.  A shirt under

a flannel work-shirt--then and now--
soaks up sweat & cold startles
the skin when wind rouses itself.
This is a ritual annoyance
that flavors wistful weariness
when I pick up a rake or a shovel.

hans ostrom 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

Concerning Me and a Concept Called You

Like you I was in space today,
moving around on what some call
Earth.  The Chinese in Mandarin
call it tu, with a diacritic mark
over the u, a parenthesis lying
on its back, looking up at the sky.

Evolution means the weather
can seem calibrated perfectly
to me (and you) and me (and you)
to the weather.  A peace treaty
signed by molecules. Can be
revoked at any time.

After work, I returned
to the circumstance by which
regardless of how much humans
learn, certain fundamental
mysteries will not yield,
such as what's the all about?--
this moving around on a
matter-ball that spins and tilts
and orbits and has an indigestive core
of molten stuff.

hans ostrom 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

"The Brain is Wider Than the Sky," by Emily Dickinson

The Mother of All Poems

When I think about writing the mother
of all poems that is to say a big serious
poem about my mother, I think about
the poem I wrote, in Karl Shapiro's class,
about how a piano contains all notes,
all potential melodies, etc., in some kind
of ideal way. And after I read it, Shapiro
said to the class, "D.H. Lawrence wrote
a poem about a piano, but it was really
about his mother; he was in love with
her." I found the comment unhelpful,

plus suggestive of incest. Oh, well:
workshops. I also think of my mother
and her low tolerance for nonsense,
such as puppets and murderers.  She
sat on the jury that convicted serial
killer Larry Lord Motherwell (ahem),
which was the name he, Frank
Eugene Caventer, gave himself,
a nom de meurtrier.

Ma wanted to make sure Motherwell
got the gas chamber, and she never forgave
the one juror who prevented that.
Anyway, I really don't feel like writing
an ambitious poem about my mother.
It seems like too much work for too
little gain, and I don't know--
Freud, Shapiro, and millions of
other people have kind of ruined
the subject for me.  My mother liked
to drink Hamm's beer out of the can.

hans ostrom 2017

Crop-Burning, Kansas

Dusk, and we're moving on I-35
through Kansas.  West of us, green
land dissolves into dissolving
available light. Sky flares

at the horizon. East of us,
flames razor yellow patterns
on black, burning undulating
land. In the car talking,

we weave a makeshift fabric
of family lore, wounds and
resentments, hilarities. One
of us glances ahead through

the windshield: rear lights
of cars burn hot and red
like lit cigarette tips.
Green land fades altogether.

Red sky goes pink, goes gray.

Night will arrive before Wichita
does. We're not anywhere very long.

hans ostrom 2017

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

It's 1954 and Emmett Kelly remembers

the Hartford, Connecticut, circus fire,
1944: the big tent went up,

and people panicked like animals,
but the big cats got strangely calm.

The famous clown rushed from
the small dressing-tent in makeup,

managed more authority than a cop
because a clown's not supposed

to speak, so when he spoke,
the wild eyed customers listened.

They let him save their lives
with a frown.  Back in his tent,

he said to Willie in the mirror,
"No show tonight. No show

in Clown Alley."  Other clowns
entered, hysterical, said who'd lived,

who hadn't. (168 hadn't.)
"You were wonderful," they told Emmett,

who had removed half of Willie's face.
As Kelly he shrugged. "I did what I could."

Now in 1954, Madison Square Garden,
Emmett's put on half of Willie's face.

He feels weary.  He tells an interviewer,
"Clowning is nothing you can study for."

hans ostrom 2017

Transformation: Dementia

He remembers language
but not his memory. He speaks
of what he sees. He scratches
his knees. A straggling memory
wanders by, covered with soot
from a burnt whole life.

To this memory he says hello.
Does not recall why he said
hello. Does not recall that
he said hello. He doesn't
remember scratching his knees.
He speaks. He sees. He listens
to speaking he speaks. It does
not interest him. This does:
An aroma. Of . . .?

He falls asleep in front of
what he sees. Outside of his sleep,
we speak of what we remember
of his memory using some of
the language he used to recall.

hans ostrom 2017

"Into the Strenuous Briefness," by e.e. cummings

Friday, September 8, 2017

Crow Travel

Just sitting outside in search of
fresh air, not looking for them:
a couple hundred crows
flying southeast across a chalk sky.

Were they coming from the famous
crow compound and annual banquet
on Whidbey Island?  Hell, I
didn't know.  Crows don't

fly in formation, not like those
fascist geese. In fact, they looked
like they'd been in a weed cafe
in Amsterdam or something--

just kind of flap-sauntering.
They flew in two groups.
Between the intervals, a solitary
crow flew from the same

direction, landed on a tree,
and got loud, as if to say,
"I didn't want to go with y'all
anyway!" Borderline personality.

I don't think it was migration.
More like they were off to
an academic crow conference
or a big wedding. Crows

just look like they have a better
handle on this reality thing.
They're not all out of control
and self-destructive like us.

hans ostrom 2017

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Velton's Testimony

Judge (said Velton), I submit
that yellow Lombardy poplar
leaves staggering down the breeze
from the trees recall butterflies:
that peculiar aerodynamic
jaggedry.  May it please the court,
such impressionistic reports
on natural scenes are worthless
and thus desirable in any age
of frenzied valuation, addictive
greed, and amphetamined commerce.

hans ostrom 2017

Velton Stopped Cheering

Velton stopped cheering
at football games and football
matches when he realized
that no one could hear him
above the noise.

hans ostrom 2017

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

"Life," by James Weldon Johnson

This Fall, White Supremacy Blooms

The forests are ablaze, the sun is red,
and a light snow of ash falls. White
Supremacy blooms again, giving off
its acrid odor, its menacing stench.

More than a few White college
students fully feel the old power
their forebears wielded like a scythe.
In front of Black professors (where

there are any), they yawn, stretch,
roll eyes, pick matter from their hair,
their eyes, their ears.  They savor
the insolence of re-authorization.

They get drunk and yell, "I am
the One Per Cent!" and offer
other triumphalist biscuits
to the air, which they own.

Not that they ever
were going to change, but
now any pressure to know or care,
to arise from racist sloth,

has dissipated like the particles
from scorched trees.
An old White bloated Hitler
knockoff at the American helm

massages the radioactive core
of the country and his Party,
Dixiecrats in drag. So White
students are as free as ever

to treat learning as a running
joke, to swagger, to luxuriate
in the shade of official hatred
behind the citadel walls. Its their

choice. It's always been their choice.

hans ostrom 2017

"George Crabbe," by Edwin Arlington Robinson.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

"Summer Silence," by e.e. cummings

"Practice Safe Poetry," by Hans Ostrom

Ceremonial Headdress

I wore a ceremonial headdress
of my own design
to the party. No one else
wore one--and, truly,

I wasn't sure how many
of them were worthy of such
a noble item of clothing.
Anyway, let's just say

their definition of
"casual attire" differs
substantially from mine.
Good day to you.

hans ostrom 2017

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


("The flight of the Kildeer is strong and rapid, and is at times protracted to a great distance. It skims quite low over the ground, or plays at a great height in the air, particularly during the love season, when you may see these birds performing all sorts of evolutions on wing."

Kildeers, about the size of flickers,
screamed across the pasture, summers.
Their shrieks were very fine, accomplished,
their low, straight routes efficient.

Thank God I didn't try to make them
symbolize or teach: what a bore,
a lugubrious Wordsworthian chore. 
No. Just the kildeers, fast fliers,

loud criers, going fast from copse
of oaks to stand of pines. 

hans ostrom 2017

Monday, August 21, 2017

America, Here's the Package

Here's the package: the hair looks
like a collapsed straw pompadour,
the skin like faded naugahyde. The
vocabulary goes zero to sixty and
stops, the attention span the same
in seconds. He can't even fake
empathy.  Is delighted to be ignorant
of history, science, economics, politics,
music, art, psychology, law, philosophy.

The White Supremacist road begins
and ends in an abyss of willful ignorance.

It's as if he played Monopoly instead
of learning even the most basic of
human things. He's witless, petty,
dull, and unctuous  Couldn't plan a sneeze
after inhaling pepper. Shouldn't
even be president of his local
hate group.  Consider how many
White folks still think he's all
right, and that will tell you where we are.

hans ostrom 2017

Phone Nightspot

Weird night: went to this small
dark bistro, got inside--no one there
but a bartender texting on her phone.

The tables were empty except
for mobile phones, some propped,
some lying flat, two or three or

four per table.  One table had just
one phone--sad. I put my phone
on that table so the two could

get to know each other. Went
to the bar, ordered a bourbon,
and said to the woman,

"Start a tab, please, and I'm
buying a round for them all."
Her look soured. The phones

started to buzz, ring, sing,
jangle, and melodize. I said,
"Cheers," and lifted my glass.

hans ostrom 2017

"The Puppet Player, " by Angelina Weld Grimké

Friday, August 18, 2017

"August," by Lizette Woodworth Reese

White Supremacy and the Liberal Arts

There’s no question that the liberal arts college, the prestige model of American higher education, has been inherently reactionary and even White Supremacist.  For it has rooted itself in a meta-narrative in which the most prized knowledge in the U.S., filtered through Europe, is a bleached package from Greece and Rome.  Linguistically and otherwise, of course, there are legitimate reasons to trace legacies from these two empires.  Problems arise when the influence of Africa, Arabia, and Asia gets deliberately ignored.  Invasions, migrations, and the nature of these empires itself make the lines from Athens and Rome to Europe and the U.S. very messy, but that is not how the Classics, etc., get taught.   Further, the original 7 liberal arts were much plainer, pragmatic, and career-oriented than what the American version has become. (A good read is Rebecca Futo Kennedy’s essay, “We Condone It By Our Silence: Confronting Classics’ Complicity in White Supremacy,” Eedolon:
True, critiques of Whiteness, colonialism, White Supremacy, the politics, culture, and terrorism of slavery, etc., do get expressed at liberal arts colleges.  But they remain on the frothy surface of what goes on.  Institutionally, ethically, and psychically, the colleges remain bastions of Whiteness.
One factor that contributes to the impervious character of the colleges is that they depend economically on middle-class and upper-class White families.  If the latter didn’t exist, neither would the colleges, which are worried now that the demographics are shifting, but which seem incapable of acting on the worry.  The liberal arts colleges that are most successful at recruiting and retaining students of color have, for example, percentages of Black students in the low single digits.  The rest have percentages that hover around or below 1%–in 2017, coming up on 400 years since Africans were forced into slavery on these shores.  The demographics alone of the faculty, student body, and upper level staff mean that White Supremacy gets baked into everyday life on a liberal arts campus.
Given the percentages, it doesn’t require much imagination to envisage what life is like for Black students on these campuses.  Daily micro- and macro-aggressions. The extra duty to serve to educate White students, faculty, and staff who, at best, express their liberalism by being “interested” in “what it’s like” to be Black, and who at worst discriminate, ignore, dismiss, and belittle.
Further, these colleges–in spite of the image of broad-mindedness they project–are bastions for faculty who deploy the propaganda of “political correctness.  –And who deploy the weird logic that diversity must equal lower standards, when in fact some of the most academically incompetent students are White ones whose family wealth has paved an easy road.  The colleges also tend to attract faculty who are White and middle class and ruling class and who bring the same ignorance and prejudice to their teaching as any White American would.
So, at a liberal arts college, it is likely that one might hear from faculty and staff such utterances as the following, and I’m not kidding:
“Why don’t they [Black students] just go to historically Black colleges?”
‘”It’s White, conservative Christians who are most discriminated against around here.”
“If they [students of color] don’t like it here, they’re free to leave.”
“I’m sick of diversity.”
“I’m much more interested in the declining percentage of White males in higher education.”
“I don’t like hiring African American colleagues because they arrive with presumptive tenure.”
And so on.  And such comments are made from a position of safety, and they’re made by faculty of stature, not as one might think by the notorious cranks in the faculty, although they make them too.
It’s still common for liberal arts faculty to make the “native informant” move, whereby, when a question related to African American history or culture comes up in class, the professor turns to the one Black student in class (or allows a White student to do the same) and asks the Black student to become a spokesperson for an entire ethnicity.
Faculty of color, especially Black faculty, have a hell of a time, too.  White faculty will compliment them on being “so articulate,” or just simply act weird around them.  Black faculty must often take on the invisible burden of counseling Black students about how to survive at the college.  This requires added hours and emotional/intellectual energy.  It’s like sailing into a stiff headwind.
The scale of liberal arts colleges can make teaching and learning more effective.  For the most part, professors, not adjunct faculty, teach the classes.  This is not necessarily an improvement, but at least the pay is fair and the professors are bit more invested in the place. But in spite of the cosmopolitan self-presentations of these colleges, they tend to be insular, figuratively incestuous, and provincial.  Greek systems, inherently reactionary, traditionally racist and misogynist, only reinforce these qualities.
The identities of liberal arts colleges usually depend on illusions of “tradition,” and “tradition” and various kinds of safety and care figure heavily into liberal arts marketing.  And of course we know how tradition and “safety” can be translated into White Supremacist practices.  For example, Black students at liberal arts colleges routinely get followed or accosted by “Security” for no reason than that they are Black. It is a problem that is both chronic and acute.
In spite of highly promoted and self-congratulatory “diversity” efforts involving modest changes to curricula and programming and lots of noise about a welcoming, tolerant community, most liberal arts colleges have hardly made a dent in their Boards of Trustees (often composed of White wealthy alums), faculties, and administrations.  They tend, strategically, to silence straight-from-the-shoulder critiques of the White status quo by pointing to modest, even token, changes.  White faculty, staff, and students often go directly to playing the victim, complaining that they mean well, aren’t racists, and have done a lot, so why are you being so ungrateful?   You know that move as well as I do.
As with the nation itself, I don’t see any serious changes ahead for most liberal arts colleges when it comes to examining their White Supremacist character, assumptions, and practices.  The self-interrogation, discipline, patience, and strength required just isn’t there, and there are simply too many rewards, many of them monetary, for staying the same.  And, culturally, there is just too much invested in the mirage of “the small liberal arts college”; this powerful illusion is part of the White Supremacist “American Dream” that Ta-Nehisi Coates describes and analyzes  in Between the World and Me. Arguably, American liberal arts colleges contribute as much to the White Supremacist status quo as does the Republican Party, with its dog-whistles and Southern Strategy, its fake textbooks (in which, for a Texas example, African slaves are referred to as “immigrants), its mask of Christian piety, and so on.   Most of these colleges have endowments large enough to stay White forever, so they will.
Further reading:
“How White Supremacy Lifts Liberal Whites,” by Gail Cornwall.
“Top-Ranked Liberal Arts College is Calling for Its President to Address Its ‘Legacy of White Supremacy,'” by Abby Jackson.
“For Christ and His White Kingdom–An open Letter to the Wheaton College Community on White Supremacy,”
“Diversity in This Progressive Cycle: Where Are We? An Issue Too Close to Us–We Cannot [sic] Possibly Ignore It,” by Luke Carberry Mogan.
“Bates + Who? An Open Letter to the Bates College Faculty.”
“White People Are Amazed that a White Woman Was Treated Like a White Woman,” Michael Harriot, The Root.
“Race and Racism at Colorado College: Revealing Micro-Aggressions and Institutional Negligence,” by Han Sayles,
“De-Segregating International Relations: A Conversation with Robert Vitalis on ‘White World Order, Black Power Politics,”
“The Case of the University of Puget Sound Three,” by Clifford Cawthon.
What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? Classroom Politics and ‘Bias’ in Higher Education, by Michael Bérubé, W.W. Norton, 2007. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Moon in Those Wild Magma Years

("The Moon May Have Had a Heavy Metal Atmosphere with Supersonic Winds,"
by Lisa Grossman, Science News, June 2017)

We thought we knew the moon:
pale and cool, the hard-working
servant of love, myth, tides,
Americans, and a genre called horror.

Turns out in its youth, the moon
was a crazy ball of magma, so hot
it vaporized metal and forged
an atmosphere, which brought

winds so blastful they made
waves in magma. (Surf this, bro.)
Finally this heat-addicted sphere
went straight, got clean, dried

out.  It slept it off under blankets
of sodium snow. When it awoke, it
had pock-marks. With chill indifference
it received cordial light from the sun.

hans ostrom 2017

Cooling Crow

This city's hot and smoky: fires
in British Columbia, climate change.
My acquaintances the crows are
suffering. I daily provide them
food, water, and a target for their ire
(me).  Today though they're really hurting.

On a wire, one of them looks
straight up at sky and opens
his mouth.  The bifurcated beak
looks like an enormous black
clothespin. This is the posture
of crow prayer.  God will listen.

God made crow. (Don't tell crow!)
This is the posture of a performed
aria in a silent crow opera. This
is crow cooling off. ( You knew
it would be dramatic.) This is rare
crow, too hot to caw complaints.

hans ostrom 2017

Oyster Shells

(near Hoodsport, Washington)

Otters, people, and seabirds covet
the plump valved purse
inside the casing, so every tide
leaves a pale gray rubble

of pillaged oyster shells,
which look like shards
of cloud that fell and
hardened.  Exterior:

rough sculpted, abstract,
ruffled at the edges
like concrete lace.
Some shells still embrace

a stone, creating a tactile
drama of inanimate passion.
It might remind us
that nature's an agony.

Oyster shells seem to ask
to be rescued and given value
in an economy. We pick some
up and carry them around a

while. They're fascinating
and worthless.

hans ostrom 2017

Monday, August 7, 2017

Christ Based Cleaning

A sign on the side
of a white van
CLEANING.  Excellent.

Gets a person hoping
for miracles mixed
with mopping and sweeping
and for a higher

minimum wage; for
speaking the truth
to local imperial thugs--
maybe after work?

This is just me, but
I wouldn't want evil
spirits cast into pets
that then sprint demonically

off a cliff. No. Throw
those bad seeds out
with the trash. Recycle
them for bloated politicians

to use ineptly. Oh,
Christ, more than a
billion times, y'all must
have thought, "What will

they think of next?"

hans ostrom 2017

Traffic Surf

Car traffic tonight
2017 sounds like a metal
ocean, tires and tires
laying down bass lines.

I've never wanted
to tell a sea to shut up.
In fact I've treated
surf noise as a lullaby

composed by hubris.
Concerning this endless
traffic enjambment,
my attitude is flat,

as if an itinerant psychiatrist
had injected my
brain with novocaine and
filled my ears with alloy.

hans ostrom 2017

Monday, July 31, 2017

At the Edge of the Road One Evening

He was quite high and making
up nonsense songs as he stood
in battered sandals on the gravel.
Dusk. In one of the lyrics he

rhymed spaghetti with confetti.
It was a mournful ballad.
Turning from composing and
performing, he asked himself

if there was any discernible
reason for humanity. He was weary
of the standard answers. He
imagined looking at the human-

phenomenon from another side
of the galaxy and thinking,
"What's that for?" in a British
accent. He then heard his name

called and listened to the familiar
voice as if for the first time. Then
it was no longer dusk but night,
what a drag.

hans ostrom 2017

They Call Him The Numerator

Yeah, that's me.  The Numerator.  Freelance.
I'll work with any denominator--they all
think they're the sum of all parts, anyway.

Me--I come in, I represent myself
and no one else.  I get paid the same
whether I'm working for a 3, a

million, a square root, or some
ludicrous boutique unit. I have to say,
it's still a thrill to work as

one over one.  Gives one a bit of an
autotelic buzz.  All about a fitted whole
in a fragmented world, or some shit like that.

hans ostrom 2017

Sunday, July 30, 2017


Small stingrays propel floating
as if they were broad flesh-leaves
rising from secret forests on the sea
floor. How can their skin be so softly
liquid to the touch? How can the edges
of their bodies undulate and curl so subtly?
The rays move like intuitive insight
through the mind of the water. They
are a marvelous surmise.

hans ostrom 2017

Saturday, July 29, 2017

What They Told Him

You need a special color. The right card. The
appropriate look and lingo. You have to know somebody,
but not just anybody. Are you on the list?
No, not that list, stupid. It's not our fault

we resent you. You don't belong here.
We belong. You're not us. How did
you even get in here? Get out or we'll
call somebody, but not just anybody.

It's not our fault we hate you. It's yours.
You made that choice. If you were just
like we like people to be, you might
be all right, but you're not, so  you're not.

Got it? It's not our fault we don't know
anything about you.  Why should we? We
don't have time. We keep a list of  people
who's fault things are.  You're on that list.

hans ostom2017

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Free-Radical Yearning

Sunlight just
before dusk
adds gold to fir trees'
in the boughs, dark lapis.

And sky's color
behind is at its palest
blue all day. I've
seen this burnished image,
only slightly varied,

hundreds of times
in the Sierra, in Sweden
and Germany, in
Istanbul and the Pacific

When it soaks in,
it always generates
a slow longing,

an impersonal sadness
involved with grandeur,
peace, and hope--all
far, far out of reach.

The heart, as we call
that mental zone, pretends
to want to ask the trees
to stay in that light,
beg the scene never to leave.

The question's
really a way to savor the mild
spiritual soreness, this
free-radical yearning,
this old, old emotion
which even other species
of hominid felt,
drawing from an immense,
invisible psychic lake.

hans ostrom 2017

Dragonfly Corpse Recovery

A blueberry's what
the head of the dead dragonfly
looked like.

A blueberry with a small
metallic visor attached.  Do you
covet video
of what was perceived and how
through that mono-goggle? Me, too.

The body looked like one of two
elegant eyebrow
from under which a Persian woman
looks wisely
upon the world. And the wings?
Stained glass

done in ash-gray, or crystal
for hiding in fog. When the head
fell off
and fell into a paper cup,
it sounded like a final pebble
hitting a coffin.

The legs were a bunching of
collapsed angles,
the knees so terribly delicate.

Things fall apart.  Creatures, too.
But it's also true
that this dragonfly was one of those
beings that show

how Evolution's patience delivers
functional art
and inspired form to its client,
the unsentimental Earth.

hans ostrom 2017

Sunflowers Are Sad, Experts Claim

Propaganda notwithstanding, sunflowers
are morose. Their puritanical, resolute
stalks lift them up to be sacrificed
to the gods, which employ birds, flied,
and bees as visiting priests. The central

cycloptic seed-cushion--color of tobacco
juice--weighs too much, like depression.
Too, please note the celebrated solar petals

wrinkle like Edwardian handkerchiefs
left in a jungle. Oh, Sunflower, foster
child of Old Bill Blake, 1960s advertising,
and baseball players: I bow my head
to you and yours.  You grow, I garden,
and it's all work, isn't it?

hans ostrom 2017

Transformation: Footballer

(soccer, that is)

When I become a footballer, I run across
grass exuberantly but usually stumble into
thick mud as it were: halted.  I become

two years old again and stab at and stomp
and kick things with my legs. Adrenalin-
incited, I then oscillate between manic

ambition and dispirited lethargy. Every
so often, ambition gets what it wanted
with regard to a ball and some netting.

Sweat-ecstasy. For a moment held
in the raucous hive-mind of the Folk.
Even as I begin to celebrate, I feel

the thrill begin to fade. I see the howling
crowd drunk in the rain, and I turn 51
and lie on a couch snoring while TV

broadcasts a soporific match.

hans ostrom 2017

Today in Memory World

Another brilliant day
of pretending to recover
time by accessing images
of spaces-past and a few
of the people in them then,
including us. It's a strange
system, but it's about all
we have. Meanwhile, we
continued to float down the
river for the first and last time.

hans ostrom 2017

Friday, July 21, 2017

Aren't We?

Tonight the rice-marsh glows,
and rows of plum trees feed
their purple particulars. The scene
means food. Poetry and photography
will want to extract more from it,
impose more on it.  They're tools
of the greedy, insatiable grunting
wanter with the frothy name,
Imagination. No. We're not doing
that tonight. For we're satisfied.

hans ostrom 2017

A Sultan at Sunset

Thirty feet up, the hummingbird hovered,
looking at sunset behind blue, wrinkled
Olympic Mountains. After a long day
of nectar-hauling, why not? Sitting facing

East, I watched the bird watch. I then
saw it trace with its body an enormous
precise circle in air.  Wondering what
or if this circle signified was a gift

grand enough for a sultan.  The invisible,
unforgettable shape suggested geometric
graffiti, avian ritual, or a secret signal
to the sun.  I almost applauded.

The whirring bird zipped off to close
the astounding performance: what a pro.
As Sultan, I decree my hummingbird
equal to Whitman's eagle, Poe's raven,

the crows of Ted Hughes and Al
Hitchcock, Shelley's and Mercer's
skylark, and Bukowski's murdered
mockingbird. (I refuse to discuss

Yeats's rapist Zeus-goose.) The effect of
this decree, the Sultan does not know.

hans ostrom 2017

Millipedes and Words

Those armored locomotive tubes,
millipedes, lived with us, resting
on cool cinder-block walls
in our tomb-like living room.

We left them alone unless guests
were expected. (You know how
guests are.) Otherwise, they stank
too much to mess with, excreting

hydrogen cyanide, and their
innards were too awfully, softly
much. (I killed one in the bathroom
once.) If we'd lived in Thailand, say,

where millipedes aspire to be snakes
then some frontier shit would have
gone down. Since they were only of
several purple-brown inches, co-

habitation worked satisfactorily.
This arrangement was decided
silently, no family discussion
(the horror). Words were to be spent
on work, hilarity, or arguments.

hans ostrom 2017

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Another Old Concept Stopped By Today

Home is a place where you keep
your stuff and almost have privacy.
Could be mansion, could be cardboard
box.  Home is were you live
at the moment.  Is home home?

I have felt it isn't.  I have felt
it is a forgery.  That said, Go home,
said with kindness quietly,
seems to be in every language
always good advice.  Probably

home is where you'll probably
stay instead of going to that
other place to do those sociable
things.  Home might be. With luck
it might be where things are easier.

hans ostrom 2017

Lighting Out

I'm lighting out for infinity.  I don't
yet have a firm idea of when
I will arrive. Oh, everybody says
it's going to take me "forever."
The truth is they don't know.

Who could blame infinity
for getting sick of extending
itself, for stopping and settling
down?  I think on my way,
I'll come around a bend,

and there will be a town,
a scape of mirrors, towers,
boulevards, gardens with
gigantic butterflies and
multicolored trees.  It will

all have been designed by
close associates of time.
After I settle in, I'll
ask if anybody knows the street
on which I might find infinity.

Of course I'll try to reach
the residence by phone or signal
ahead of time.  Manners matter.
What sort of gift should I bring?
What sort of song should I sing?

hans ostrom 2017

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Key

There's someone in the basement wailing.
It must be that fellow other tenants call Poe.
That's all I know. Wailing and Poe.
I don't own, don't hold the keys to,
that ambitious dungeon. Otherwise,
I'd knock trepidation aside and descend
toward the sound like a responsible person.

I start wailing myself.  Weakly, at first.
And I begin to wonder what the tenants
will call me, if indeed mournful cries
lead to nicknames and dungeons.  It
all depends on what the rules are. The key
will be to know who has the key.

hans ostrom 2017

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

I Robin, I

I robin tip
my body forward
on an axis
when I hop-walk.
I robin stand
up tall after
I stop. I
robin turn my
head to listen
to/look at grass,
so to seek
evidence of worms.

I robin swallow
a worm whole
with a bit
of dirt. I
robin may also
chop worms into
pieces, then eat,
or take them
back to nestlings

I robin like
my orange feather
shirt and my
gray feather jacket.
I robin fly
and hop with
other robins long
ways after something
changes in the weather's
tone of voice.

I robin flute
fluidly my tune,
I robin I. 

hans ostrom 2017

Monday, June 26, 2017

Harrier Mind

Your mind's pressing in again,
isn't it?  Harrier mind. It raps
on doors and windows, jiggles
locks, leaves ugly messages.

It's a double agent, a drill
sergeant, a bully, a beast.
Hunker down. Think of this
annoyance as mental theater.

Fall asleep before intermission,
muttering, "Mind, you exhaust me."

hans ostrom 2017

Big Shift Necessary

Oh, Switzerland, oh
shoes. Oh piety and booze.
Oh capitalists and nest-
robbers, mud-daubers
and multi-chambered tombs.

Oh wombs and the women
who carry them and carry
history, mystery, misery,
work, and care.  Where
is the wisteria? Where
are the boundaries drawn
by people who shouldn't?

Oh people, grow up.  It's
time. Stop worshiping
stupidity and sanctifying
greed. Lose the White
Supremacy and its evil,
desiccated heart. Discharge
sinister ministers. Own up.

'Fess up. Follow the money,
but don't let it be Lord. We
are one species, so work it
out from there.  Oh, hair.

hans ostrom 2017

Found Towns Lost

In daylight tiny
rural towns pretend
not to feel foolish
and depleted. There's
activity. An enthusiastic
conversation or two.
Errands and repairs.

At night streets
(such as they are)
become empty corridors
because people give
up, go inside, and
refuse to be towns-
people, too ridiculous.

Some shops weep,
others moan. If electricity
goes there at all, it
races through power
lines hoping not to be
used there. Before

dawn, animals file
through in a loose
parade.  Raccoons,
stray dogs, feral
cats, owls, and sometimes
a coyote. The stoic church
bell sweats rust, and
all the glory's in ornate
tombstones on a hill.

hans ostrom 2017

Friday, June 9, 2017

You Know?

We know we know
enough to know
we'll never know
enough to say
for sure we're sure
we know enough.

hans ostrom 2017

Leonardo Showed Her Smile

Please consider starting
with this premise:
Ms. Mona Lisa's smile
is not mysterious.

Now you may release
the heap of stifling baggage,
and if you like,
enjoy the image as it is.

(after reading Leonardo Da Vinci, by Sherwin Nuland [2005].

hans ostrom 2017

William Tell Ravine

(a tributary of the North Yuba River, Sierra County, California)

Before he'd heard anything about Switzerland, Schiller,
Rossini & stuff, he'd looked across the river from the house
at the long white beard of William Tell Falls. The sheer-drop
ravine seemed perpendicular.  No home for trout.  Im-

pulsively, as usual, he decided to hike up there when he was
17. He headed out, crossed the river, climbed straight up,
more laddering than walking. Ravine was path as rock
and manzanita brush walled the sides. He made it

as far as the flat pool the falls slapped in a-rhythmic
pulses. Sounds of that constant collision careened
around the stone box. There was no climbing further.
In soaked jeans and wet boots, legs loaded up

with lactic acid, he slithered down like an arthritic
snake, satisfied to have spied on a geologic scene,
to have introduced himself to William Tell Ravine,
and to have seen water and rock in their own time.

hans ostrom 2017

Monday, June 5, 2017

American White Supremacy: the Constant Plague

It leads to the continuing slaughter and unnecessary imprisonment of African Americans.  It leads to impoverished and working-class Euro-Americans to vote catastrophically against their own personal and economic interests.  It leads Euro-American women to vote for an admitted sexual assaulter for President. It leads to enthusiastic, widespread display of a flag that represents slavery, rape, murder, and terror: the Confederate flag. It leads to an irrational foreign policy.  It gets conflated with patriotism and Americanism. 
It leads “pro-life” "Christians" to support a murderous justice system and a savage attitude toward healthcare, both of which kill people, just as it once led them to own slaves and lynch human beings.  It leads to de facto Jim Crow educational policies.  Even in relatively improved situations—such as the status of African Americans and Latino Americans in higher education—it leads to continuing dehumanization: racist graffiti on campuses, racist security “services,” racist treatment of professors and students, etc.
It is White Supremacy, an idea rooted in the fake science of 17th and 18th centuries, completely fictional constructions of multiple human species when in fact there is only one.  And obviously this idea helped to make slavery and genocidal colonialism, among other things, morally acceptable to alleged Christian nations, including ours.
White Supremacy never goes away.  It only changes shape, at most.  Slavery has ended, but widespread immiseration of minority populations remains, as does a proliferation of hate groups and lynching talk from elected representatives:  while still a U.S. Senator, Jim DeMint said of newly elected President Obama, “we will break him”; recently an elected official in the South said those responsible for removing monuments to confederate figures should be lynched.   The mindset leading to such rhetoric determines the character of the GOP, which is a White Supremacist Party.  As noted, de facto Jim Crow practices remain in the justice system, the political systems (voting rights eroded), the educational system, and the healthcare system.
Shortly before she retired from the liberal arts college at which I teach, a highly respected, nationally decorated colleague said to me, after I had mentioned the miserable jog the college did at recruiting and retaining Black students, “Why don’t they [African American students] just go to historically Black colleges [as opposed to “annoying” “us”,” I guess was the rest of the point.  In the GOP mind, she probably counts as a typical “liberal” professor.  Liberal and White Supremacist, unapologetically so.  Multiply her worldview by hundreds of thousands, and you’ll get some sense of how White Supremacy vitiates allegedly enlightened institutions. Imagine how that worldview inspires innumerable micro- and macro-aggressions, every day. 
White Supremacy affects the Left, with hard-line quasi-socialists, including Bernie Sanders, downplaying (at best) the presence and effects of racism.  It affects liberals, who may say the right things but are almost never as aggressive as they need to be to wipe out White Supremacy.  It affects seemingly smart men like Justice Roberts, who asked, when the continuation of the Voting Rights Act was before the court, just how long such an Act (and other measures) was supposed to be allowed to go on.  In other words, when would “they” (African Americans) be satisfied?  Embedded in the rhetoric is the attitude of a White Supremacist doing somebody a favor and growing oh so weary of it.  The answer to the “how long” question is “as long as it takes,” of course.  And of course his Court struck down the Act, or at least its most potent parts, and doing so led directly to widespread voter suppression in the South and Midwest, where White “Christian” governors and legislatures reign.
It affects identity, not just in the narrow sense of “identity politics,” but in the sense that millions of Euro-Americans simply cannot construct an identity that doesn’t depend significantly on the belief that in some deep biological sense, they are superior to African Americans. 
I just had lunch with a remarkably smart, well educated, successful former student who is African American.  She said that after Trump was elected, “it didn’t take long” for a White man driving a truck with a Confederate flag decal to yell the N-word and other violent expressions at her—no, not in the South, but in Westlake Village, Los Angeles.  Subsequently she visited Kansas City, Missouri, where she “didn’t feel safe” because of how White folks were behaving in public.  Multiply her experiences by millions and imagine the psychological impact on African Americans.  Imagine the stress this impact creates.
White Supremacy is certainly tied up in Trump’s pulling out of the Paris accord on global warming because gleeful ignorance, doing thing because you can, showing contempt for scientists in particular and higher education and research in general, and throwing your imagined White Man weight around are linked to this problem of identity.
It affects the media, not just White Supremacist Fox News but also more mainstream outlets, who rarely mention the profound White Supremacist appeal of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and the rest of the GOP and who rarely challenge the Democrats on their feckless or non-existent responses to racist policies. 
It certainly affects academia, informing notions of the liberal arts, hurting students and professors, and leading other professors into very sad, racist territory, putting the lie to all their high-minded posturing.
Decades ago, the genial, urbane legal scholar Derrick Bell told me that he was telling friends that vicious racism [White Supremacy] in the U.S. would never go away.  And he added that a feeling of relief, at least briefly, came over him when he recognized and expressed that fact.
As a political and social entity, Euro-Americans have always had the power to knock the crap out of White Supremacy.  Instead, they take half-measures—at best.  Otherwise, they are by turns uselessly guilty, stupidly liberal, viciously “conservative” [let’s get real: the GOP is the same as the Dixiecrat Party], unctuously sympathetic, and enthusiastically harmful. They say shit like “I never owned slaves,” which is supposed to lead to the logical conclusion that “so I don’t have to do anything about White Supremacy [except enjoy it.”  “All lives matter,” “Obama got elected—what more do you want?,” “make American great again,” “Obama isn’t American,” and yadda yadda yadda. They do things like defending  murderous policing and voting for Donald Trump, already in the category of worst presidents ever--although he doesn’t own slaves, as Jefferson and Washington (among others) did. 
Euro-Americans simply won’t get the job of eradicating White Supremacy, its legacies, and its consequences, done.  Much of the time, they perpetuate it, on purpose or through indifference and willful ignorance.  White Supremacy should be, but never will be, part of our daily political dialogue, given the horrors for which it has been responsible.  It is at the amoral core of the U.S.  It is the most obvious matter of urgency and the most ignored.  Sure, there are multiple factors that led to the election of a gleefully White Supremacist, “birther” President, who is catastrophically unfit for that position.  But if there were no White Supremacy or if there were only an enfeebled remnant of it, there would be no President Trump.   
The disease of American White Supremacy thrives like a plague.  It makes everybody sick, one way or another.  I have no clue what to do about it, even though I write against it and do very tiny things in my very tiny sphere to oppose it.   I wish something would wake up Euro-Americans, en masse.   Wishing is not a strategy.