Saturday, December 21, 2019

Transformation: Russian Poet

When I become a Russian poet,
I write lines like "I walked home
from the universe after midnight."
In my diary, I record hunger,
infatuation, death, more death,
prayer, gibberish--and passion
that screams in my throat.

I read American poetry
and wonder, "When will
they ever grow up?" I was
born grown up. It's the Russian
way. I write poems
about white birches, inconstant
lovers, and ice--in spite
of myself. Poetry was invented
everywhere but especially,
especially in Russia.

hans ostrom 2019

Know Your Place

Virtual virtiginous vanity,
digital indignities,
resounding robotic rhetoric: oh,
what shall we tell the angels
when we see them? No

worries: angels own their
own hyper-reality and know
their way around algorithmic
dances that created them.

Perhaps you find yourself
wishing to turn away
from the sheer volume and mass
of human activity. Well,

you may not. It's not
allowed. Though exponentially
trivial, you remain a datum.
Know your place. And don't
leave it.

hans ostrom 2019

Monday, December 9, 2019

A Little Song of Should and Would and Could

I should have done this,
and I should have done that.
I should have been a forester
and worn a woodsy hat.

I could have done that,
and I could have done this.
I could have climbed Everest
had I not been so remiss.

I would have done less,
and I would have done more
had I had a better notion
of what this life is for.

Regret is rather useless,
regret is kind of dumb.
Cussing out oneself
only makes one numb.

I hope you're doing what
you should and could and would
according to your tastes
and what you think is good.

And what you think is good:
I hope it makes some sense.
Too many make bad good
Under thus-and-such pretense.

hans ostrom 2019

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Dublin Perambulation

Parnell's Protestant, pugnacious statue
directs foot traffic, which today
is syrupy slow and sweet, a mix
of Kerry green and Dublin blue
on the big day of Gaelic football
championships match: "All

amateur, mind you, and good
for the family," says everyone
we've listened to about the matter.

On wide O'Connell Street,
buskers and beggars attract
brassy coins like bees
in the names of art and pity.

Then here comes the autumn
breeze, as fresh as, well,
I don't know what, but
it's hauling ass down the street.

And here comes a casino,
"Dr. Quigley's Goodtimes Emporium,"
how droll, how not-Las-Vegas.
Skulking, big, and befuddled,
I buy braided strands of cerulean
wool yarn and declare ritual
loyalty to the Boys in Blue."

But really I'm thinking of the
main fortress in town. It is
circular, and it's a library.
Two great ideas married.

My hip aches like history's teeth,
and although I appreciate Yeats
and Joyce, Lady Gregory
and Eavan Boland, and 1916,
and the troubles, and wit, I just want
some brown bread and jam..

Anxious shrieking seagulls
in St. Stephen's Green seem
to agree with me. Dublin's
and easy city, if--as with all
cities--you have a bit of money.
The swan I see in the big
pond came from Coole,
that's a lie, and I'm hungry.

hans ostrom 2019

Friday, December 6, 2019

And the Smiles Don't Disappear

In another century, you walked
across Litenyny Bridge,
St. Petersburg. Snow with notions
of rain fell tangentially then.
You'd come from Sweden
expecting nothing. The city
was scuffed, stained, and strained.
Puffing buses spewed black exhaust,
hauling hardiest people. You
were on your way to the Finland
Station, because of what you'd read,
not what you'd lived. The river
was white. And beautiful.

Now in this century, lights
of St. Petersburg have bloomed.
The Bronze Horseman's vision
of the City has been buffed.
Hope's been hauled up out
of sad pits. People breathe
and laugh, walk to school
and work in good clothes.
Fresh vegetables for all.
Revolution enough, but don't
tell Lenin. When in St. Petersburg,

you must look for Akhmatova's
house--well, one she lived
in. Because you like living,
you seek beet soup in September
as rain with notions of sunshine
falls in a kindly way on  massive
monuments and canal water, on
people's hats and umbrellas--
on their smiles, which do not disappear.

hans ostrom 2019

Roll the Boulder

Roll the boulder away,
I say. Push the rock.
Don't let it block
the entrance to enchantment.

They say a muscular angel
rolled the boulder
away, letting a certain
spirit be on its crucial way.

Hey, I don't know,
I wasn't there. Many women
were. I defer. I
do not demur. Roll

the obstinate stone
away from dispiriting
obstacles. As you push,
think of strong angels.

hans ostrom 

What Happened to What Happened

I know what happened
to what happened. It sits
right here in my hand
like a small bird,
a little bit of sand,
or a few notes that fell
out of a song.

hans ostrom 2019

Monday, November 25, 2019

Boo Hoo

Once I started crying,
I didn't stop. A sizzling
lahar of salt tears poured
out. Buildings of my
interior life fell over.
Hurricanes and typhoons
raked shaky coasts
where grief had lived
in mansions.

Geysers of weeping
spewed, and a billion
drums pounded iron
roofs with rain. All

my brilliant boats went
belly up or bow down.
In the end I stood like a stone
statue in a swamp
and wondered what another
day might bring or take.

Tactically, I'll revisit
stoicism and make my way
back to a dry plateau
where dead brush hisses
in hot wind. Home at last.

hans ostrom 2019

City Fixer

I went around the city
fixing things today.
With my wrench, I fixed
a tree, tightening its
branches. I advised
a tall building on how
to improve its posture.

One of the parks was
badly fractured. I used
special bolts to mend it.
Logic dictated that I
give food to a hungry
woman. I tried to

spray the mayor
with political  disinfectant
but was rebuffed. Now
I'm conducting an ad
hoc choir on the
underground train,
for as you know the noise
of the metro begs
for assistance. Citizens,
I am here for you.

hans ostrom 2019

When a Night Takes

When a night takes years
to pass and fever builds
a monstrous city in your brain,
you get some funny notions
about time. You writhe

in space like a wounded snake
and sweat like a stoker. God
can't hear you over the wreckage
of sounds in your head.

The pain belongs to someone who
reminds you of you, who
considers becoming terrified,
but that takes energy. And
from tomorrow's direction
comes the strangest thing,
which is you don't know what.

hans ostrom 2019

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Poets, Keep Going

Poets, whatever else you do--
fitting pipes, washing clothes,
fighting fevers--keep going.

Language invented itself
so creatures like you could
squawk complaints, snap
rage, run a rhythm or two,
mumble melodies, blather,
and boom. Doom is a constant,
a function of matter. No matter,

keep going: the saying and
scribbling, the text-tiling
and questidigitation are
frivolous and crucial, vile
and vain, and a rare form of sane.

hans ostrom 2019

Bourbon Street Blues

Bourbon Street's a nightmare
the subconscious mind refused
to publish: too obvious. Frat boys,
sorority royalty, and benumbed
conventioneers move through
the neon chute like cattle. Some
of them yell as if yelling had
just been invented.

To thrive, the clubs must be
as loud as train wrecks. Batter
their ears, three-personed band.
At 4:00 a..m. there's a funeral
for moonlight smothered by clouds.

Sex workers and pickpockets
count their wages. Obligato
snarls from a fat motorcycle
finish off kitschy rituals.
Solo buskers and Black kids
who beat on plastic buckets
make the only tunes worth
listening to. People make
a living here. That's the point,
really the only point.

hans ostrom 2019


How do you shape your silences?
What do they serve? Some
silences seem to preside
over thoughts that keep going,
keep searching for nothing
except the next object of thought.

There's the quiet in the mind
following failure, the sound
of shame and acquiescence.

Yesterday you heard a noise
that came you thought from
inside a wall. You found a silence
and leaned into it, hoping/not hoping
to hear the sound a second time.
The next day you remembered
it as a silence to savor, not as
an absence of something you sought.

hans ostrom 2019

Their Dominion Today

Always the birds, to haul you back
from history, splendor's clutter,
and your grasping mind. On a steel
bench outside Catherine's Summer
Palace, near a lakely pond,
I get an ear buzzed by a sparrow
on its way to pick over grain
tourists tossed to ducks.

A black and grey raven lands
close on a bench-back, cocks
its head to cast a cold eye
of inquiry. Sun warmth,
oaks, willows, and breeze suggest
Central California to me.
Our landscapes are so much
more similar than our politics
force us not to be. Here

is here. Birds live in their
own geography and polity.
They know they can't eat
history or nest in ideology.
Today is their dominion
outside St. Petersburg.

hans ostrom 2019

Monday, October 21, 2019

New to Blue

Different hues of blue
assert different moods to you.
It's true: when you forget
to mind your mind,
it will try to run every
sensed impression through
its symbolizing factory,
which manufactures far
too many products.

You reach a point
where you refuse delivery,
wanting to be able to experience
meaninglessly, or try to,
as if you were for instance
new to blue.

hans ostrom 2019

Ginko Divestiture

That old ginko tree flung
its cache of currency at the wind
as if it had taken a vow
of ginko poverty. Here,
it said to Fall, have it all,
and tell Winter to choke
on it, like gall.

hans ostrom 2019

Thursday, October 10, 2019

They Need Easy

Up and down the stairs
of scales the bossa nova moves,
garbed in 1960s threads. A
crowd shuffles and sways
to these terraced tunes.
These folks have fled the future,
which is fond of atrocity. Sort
of dancing, they need easy.
They want to rest in it
and love and laugh in it,
knowing something simple
like the bossa nova.

hans ostrom 2019

Wednesday, September 18, 2019


Mutant geometries. Labor
mills. Silos of capital.
Rivers of sewage. Noise
wars. Reservoirs of suckers.
Culture forts. Illusions
of Always. Power bunkers.
Hives for the homeless. Rodent
carnivals. Poverty gardens.
Ministries of fashion. Megaliths
of indifference. Injection sites.
Status farms. Cargo inhalers.
Leverage cathedrals. Temples
of excess. Catacombs of loneliness.

hans ostrom 2019

Monday, September 16, 2019

His Final Thought

Just before he died
he realized nothing
was heavy or dark
and everything was
light. And light.

hans ostrom 2019

Outside the Norseman Pub with Time

Outside the Norseman Pub in Dublin,
Time heard me thinking of  dates
& events in one of its pasts. "What are you
thinking about those for?" asked Time.
"You need to move on."

Three Irish women walked by.
Their lilting, lovely conversation
played in the air like aural butterflies.
(I don't think Yeats would have liked

that comparison.) "See," I said
to Time, "I can do the present,
too, so leave me alone." Highlights
in the women's hair shone. 

hans ostrom 2019

Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Legend of the River Liffey Pike

And here we will pass on
the tale of the River Lifffey
Pike. This pike was so big
(so big!) that in order to
change its direction in the
Liffey, it had to perform
a three-point turn like
a black limousine. And this
is as true as it possibly can be.

Over many years, all the
anglers around Leixlip
and Straffan tried to catch
the pike but the giant just
slammed into their legs,
ate lines and leaders,
snapped fishing poles
like twigs, and threatened
children and nuns.

Finally one day the
notorious poacher Bon
hooked the massive mean
pike with sturdiest leader,
line, and pole. A dry
fly he was using. Bon
fought the fish, fought
it but couldn't reel it
in. So he went to the bank
with his pole and circled
a large tree many times,
docking the River Liffey
Leviathan. Then Bon

clambered up the bank
and lumbered is way
to the Salmon Leap Tavern
in Leixlip. He recruited
a band of Guinness-lit
lads to help him haul the
big pike in. Bon led

the laughing band down
to the bank, only to find
that the leader, the line,
the pole, the tree, and the fish
had all disappeared.

So big, so large, so grand
was the River Liffey Pike
that it had hooked the famous
poacher Bon, played him
for an optimist (all anglers
are optimists, they must be),
reeled him in, and dropped
him in the creel of local legend.

On your travels you may find
yourself in Leixlip on Cooldrinagh
Road, Lucan Demesne, County
Kildare, Ireland. Stop by the Salmon
Leap Tavern, it's there, and after
you've settled in with a pint
and made the acquaintance
of those in attendance, ask them if
they've heard of the River Liffey
Pike that gathered in the leader,
the line, the pole, and the tree
and set itself free from the infamous
poacher, Old Bon, who upon returning
from his loss, stood all the lads
to a pint and started to tell
them a story they already knew
and added some details, a few,
just a few.

hans ostrom 2019

On the Leg to Dublin

Something is rotten in Amsterdam.
Probably my clothes during a day
and its night of air(less) travel.

The Amsterdam airport is almost
as empty as the American
president's head. One more leg

to go, I go through a gate only
to get on a bus, which takes me and
the rest of a considerable herd

past an epic line of florescent
hyphens in the dark. They suggest
an endless industrial pause

for no effect. From the bus I
see that over the airplane
hangs a moon that looks like

an egg with problems. Clouds
soil it. Out of the bus I go up
some iron steps to my seat,

which is 2-B, or not 2-B: much
is contingent upon the mood
of an Irish attendant on unpaid

overtime. She makes the woman
seated in front of me stow
a stuffed toy dolphin overhead.

Her co-attendant Conor re-counts
the passengers as a Dutch man
in a yellow vest tells the aircraft's

captain he's going to write a report.
He says several more times, "I'm
going to write a report." The aircraft

seems to fall asleep. I think Hamlet
should have traveled more, gotten
out of the castle into the world,

away from swords and ghosts
and other castle creeps. "Tighten
your seat belt," the Irish attendant

tells me. Her last name's McCarthy.
If she knows about Hamlet, she
probably thinks he's a bit of a wanker,

an English-speaking Dane too old
to live at home who talks to skulls.
The Dutch man in the yellow vest

leaves. Let the report-writing begin.
Let Conor and McCarthy prepare for
takeoff. Let the leg to Dublin commence.

hans ostrom 2019

My Location Can't Be Found

I asked my phone where I was.
I mean, I knew where I was
according to old customs
but I wanted to know my location
according to rules set out
by our minders, the satellites.

The phone said "your location
can't be found." I didn't care
where I was anymore. I cared
that things seemed to be going
all right, what with my still
breathing and all. My phone

was not connected to the line
on which I thought I was. The
Great Online. What's more
chaotic than connectivity?
Ask your phone. Its answer
will be evasive.

hans ostrom 2019

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Regarding Boxes of Boxes

There's something wrong
about a box of boxes.

It's as if Box World
has suddenly acquired
a food chain and boxes
have started eating boxes.

Open a box of boxes,
and you'll almost hear
the inner boxes moaning,
sobbing cardboard sobs.

Each of them wants
to contain something
independently. They're
fine with intervals

of emptiness, which
are better than the horror
of recycling or
the atrocity of magic.

I'm a zealot on the subject:
a box is mean to be
autonomous, enclosing
material matched to form.

I'm not afraid to declare
I belong to Box Liberators.
Stand--or sit, on a box, your
heft matched to form--with us!

hans ostrom 2019

Over: A Song

Over the bones,
monuments stand.
Over the stones,
dirt, grit, and sand.

Over the stream,
one heron flies.
Over our heads:
banal gray skies.

Now lightning,
now thunder,
now rain.

will bloom
in the lane.

Over the years
the town's grown sad.
Over the good
runs all the bad.

Over my soul,
crows and owls fly.
Over my days
looms the great Why.

Now silence,
Now whispers,
Now crying,

As always
we're selling,
we're buying.

hans ostrom 2019

Self Government

A federation of doubts governs
my days. Fear, the old dictator,
has risen again. It's enough
that you're breathing, proclaims
this moment's fretting mayor.
The mind continues as a manic,
busy legislature.

hans ostrom 2019

Monday, August 19, 2019

Local Residents Are Disturbed

      (found poem based on news headlines)

Disgruntled diner shoots waiter
to death over sandwich delay. Girl
dies after being left in hot car.
"Stand your ground" trial begins
in killing over handicapped
parking spot. Giant hand statue
touches down in New Zealand
and local residents are disturbed.
At least 6 teens are shot at Houston
"instant house party" organized
on Snapchat. A man has been
arrested for allegedly threatening
to shoot up a Jewish center in Ohio.
Lynching reemerges in new rhetoric
of hate. Fracking prompts global
spike in atmospheric methane,
study shows. Climate change
to shrink economies of rich
and poor, hot and cold countries
alike. Hottest month on record
for the planet, scientists say.

hans ostrom 2019

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Contrarian Poets

Not that you asked, but from my earliest days of reading poetry up to now, I've been drawn to the poetry of contrarians who chose not to fit into the popular or popular-literary conventions of the day. Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins are good examples, and I started reading their poetry when I was a teen. True, Dickinson worked in what fit loosely into ballad/hymn traditions, but disrupted most of the conventions with regard to subject matter, meter, rhyme, and world-view. Hopkins was a Jesuit priest who usually had his poems get around to praising God, but I had the sense that wasn't his main emphasis, which was on exploding the iambic line. Like Dickinson, he had an unusual worldview insofar as he was drawn to what was imperfect, improvised, messy. "Pied Beauty" expresses this view best, perhaps.

Then there's Karl Shapiro and Langston Hughes. Shapiro was in some ways part of the literary establishment insofar as he edited Poetry magazine, taught at big universities--as many poets did after World War II--co-wrote a book on English/Irish/Scottish/American prosody, and early on worked in rhyme and regular meter. But as with Dickinson and Hopkins, he disrupted the tradition as much as he worked within it. As to subject matter, he wrote about killing flies, auto wrecks, troop ships, and the like, though he could produce a good love poem here and there. He deliberately cultivated an eccentric image of himself, as a Jew who was far from orthodox, a Jew who thought Pound shouldn't get the Bolingen Award because of his fascism, an "atheist who says his prayers," a "bourgeois poet" in an era when the alleged anti-bourgeois Beats were all the rage, and so on. He belonged but thumbed his nose at belonging. He mocked at will.

Smack in the middle of the Modernist era, Hughes wrote accessible verse about a wide swath of Black experience. He did the latter way before it became a crucial part of African American literature. It was as much a political, existential stance as it was a literary one. Like William Carlos Williams, he occupied the accessible turf of Modernism, contrary to Joyce, Eliot, Pound, and all their deliberately "difficult" imitators. Hughes also went all in on socialist politics in the 1930s--until Mussolini invaded Ethiopia and Hitler started his race war and Stalin conducted his own genocide. Again, based on existential reality, Hughes supported the war against the fascists.

Luckily, I was able to take classes from Shapiro, and maybe that reinforced my contrarian nature. I chose not to pursue an MFA and preferred to earn a Ph.D. I was never part of any local, regional, national, or online movement, clique, or club. This wasn't out of a desire to make a point; really, it's just that I didn't enjoy or need that kind of thing, for whatever reasons. It is true that, having grown up in a town of 225 in the High Sierra, I was indeed a hick with a built-in eccentricity feature. I was West Coast, and in spite of all the powerful regional movements in American poetry, the East still rules. I grew up in an era when there were legions of male poets who fashioned themselves hard-drinking tough guys who, when they taught classes, liked to be cruel, or to not show up, and to cultivate some version of a renegade persona. It got so de rigeur that I recoiled from it.

Nowadays, I avoid all the online groups and cliques, although I say, "More power to them." Whatever gets and keeps poets writing is more or less all right with me. I'm still drawn to poetry that goes against the grain in some easily discernible way. I never got the hang of L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poetry, although I got what they were aiming for. Too often, it just seemed like gibberish or, when not gibberish, excessively taxing on the reader's patience.

I think much African American and otherwise "ethnic" poetry--Latino/a/x, Asian American (many sub-groups), Native American--brings a huge amount of energy and innovation to poetry and is often the best of the Spoken Word stuff.

hans ostrom 2019

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Ins and Outs

A cat is walking in and
walking out as a tide is going
out and coming in as metro
trains are going out and
coming in as harmonica
buskers suck notes in
and blow notes out,

as workers enter and exit
buildings of their jobs
as your breath is going
out and coming in as
your sense of consciousness
is pulling back, now
pushing forth--in

this moment, as you
observe to yourself
you are alive.

hans ostrom 2019

Unicorn and Dragon

A unicorn asked a dragon,
"Would you like to exist
in material form?" "Hell

no," the dragon answerd.
"My breath would set
my head on fire."

"Prefer the myth,
my mono-spiked friend."
"Thank you," said the unicorn.

hans ostrom 2019

Seeds in My Bed

Dark brown seeds
in my bed. From bread.
(Bed is a place for sleep,
books, and sex. Beyond
these three, life does have
a few other highlights.)

The seeds look like tiniest
canoes. I'm going to sleep
beside them because I
am not moved to tidy up.

I won't have the recurring
dream of lying flat in a canoe
and floating down a river,
night, many others floating
in their canoes beside me.

The river rivers me
toward a sunny place where
people seem okay and help
me ashore. Because the

brown seeds made me want
to dream that dream,
the law of dreams will not
let me dream it. Goodnight.

hans ostrom 2019

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Wood Carving

Is this wood
in the mood
for steel? The
shape you see
in there is real.
It's not a distant
form. Your body
warms as you
dig in, asking
grain if it's seen
the spoon you
want. Of course
it has. A basic

sensuality abides
in this old craft,
which predates sin.
Odd, and good,
how body and
attention mold
themselves around
the task. Shavings
and gougings fly
like fat snowflakes.
Wood remaining
repeats a mantra
to you as you carve:
carver, slow down. 

hans ostrom 2019

An Opening

Gamblers and philosophers--Pascal was both--
need a system. Poets with a system wake up
one morning or night and the system is lying
next to them like a suit of armor made entirely
of mollusks. Unsatisfactory. Poets need openings,
not systems. There is life and there is language
and there are openings between the two and poets
look for them. Here's an opening: go through.

hans ostrom 2019

Of Morpheus

Last night Morpheus, dream
distributor, sent a severed head
to my sleep. I couldn't decide
what to do with the head. I carried
it around, stored it, hid it, hid from it.
This took several seconds or a year.

People in the dream, extras,
noticed the head and discussed me
when I was absent, and I heard
everything they said, which is how
waking life should work. They
began to think less and less of me,
and I started to hate myself
more and more. I never asked
who the head belonged to. I

took it with me underground,
cool moist rooms of concrete
and steel. Strange chambers.
I could not just finish the dream
and bury the head. Chest full
of panic. Eyelids fluttering
outside the dream like butterflies

The head rotted on my lap.
I sat and rocked myself awake.
Awake, I told Morpheus to fuck off.

hans ostrom 2019

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Poetry Consulates

Pushkin loved the idea of St. Petersburg
and the bronze horseman who saw
the city before it was built. Langston
Hughes loved the idea of Harlem,
also some people there. Did Baudelaire
love Paris? Splenetically, perhaps.
I don't think Dickinson loved
any cities. The village of her mind
sufficed. It pleases me to think
of all the poets writing now
in Istanbul and Mainz, Hong
Kong and Honolulu, Uppsala
and Houston, Brasilia and Berlin,
Tehran and Tangier and all
the other cities where poets
live, every city in other words,
in their words,  which
follow their cities around,
no matter how often the
cities change disguises. Poets'
words attach themselves to love
and food, despair and dreams. If
only these poets could meet
and read their poems and argue
but not fight, ask questions
about language and children,
mountains and rivers. Should we
build poetry consulates in all the cities
we can? Surely it couldn't hurt.

hans ostrom 2019

Monday, July 29, 2019

Dog in the Rain

Sometimes you feel like a dog in the rain.
Right at that point when the dog's
too tired to make its fur
shake off water. When the dog
aches to smell warmth
and what's hiding inside it.

The dog knows that if going
inside will happen,
it won't be soon because
dogs smell time and know
such things. So the dog
lowers its head and keeps
going to where clouds fall
apart and it can lift up its head again.

hans ostrom 2019

Friday, July 26, 2019

Respectfully Absurd

Rituals of remembrance,
so weary, so salty-sweet.
Beside an open grave,
someone says words 
about a dead man whose
corpse lies in a manufactured
box nearby. The memories
of him will never be riper
than they are now. No one
will think to recall him after
a few months, it not days, if
not . . . Even at the moment
how many listeners are 
thinking of other things, 
or wondering what the point
of funeral services is? "Funeral
services" has the ring 
of American assembly lines. 
That's all right. The frail,
exhausted nobility of mournful
practices preserves their worth.
They're respectfully absurd.

hans ostrom 2019

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Memo to Religions

Pretty much all religions
need to take a break from being God,
from being chosen, elected, selected,
right and righteous. Religions
are human and assuming God sends
rules and info, religions must therefor garble
the message, if not twist it into a club
used to knock around the faithful.

Religions, please spend the next 100 years
doing practical good, making up
as best you can for your stupidities,
atrocities. Get the hell out of the way
and let people breathe. Dump
the vast stores of wealth, throw
water on the preening, the pompous,
the predatory. Put that goddamned
fire out.

hans ostrom 2019

All He Could Manage To Do

I'll tell you what. I'll tell you
a man cut grass and picked up trash
and sat down then. He thought
about America's most recent
consolidation of white-supremacist
power, became queasy. Thought
of vomiting on the cut grass but
did not. A hummingbird

visited a nearby rosemary bush,
pale blue blossoms fluffed out
modestly like women's
handkerchiefs in 1911. Hummingbird
throat-chirped when it backed off
a blossom, and again when it
air-wheeled itself back for another
nectar-strike. The man made
a powerless choice. He let

sight and sound of one bird
help him breathe out of his
disgust and go more lightly
through next tasks. It was pitiful.
It was all he could manage to do.

hans ostrom 2019

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Ultimate Shade

A gardener grabbed
dead day-lily stalks
and some soil with them.
And an earthworm. Earthworm.
Syllables of that word
burrow deep in the mouth. Said

gardener let the worm lie
in a gloved palm. Said
earthworm paused its wriggling
until the gloved hand had
repatriated it to a bed of soil
where vegetables meet
to gossip about each other.

Buried alive in soft dirt,
the worm resurrected its writhing
life in ultimate shade, as gardener
returned to a life in air and light
and work and worry.

hans ostrom 2019

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Postcard from Anxiety

Hello! We've arrived.
Our knees have buckled,
and we're sick to our
stomachs. We're terrified
of being afraid. It's
just like home! We're
not sure how long we
will stay. We're never sure,
for certainty always lies.
We gulp our breaths.
Love to all, Us.

hans ostrom 2019

Busy Sky

Aquarius pours water into troughs
for Taurus and Aries, horned
herbivores. Scorpio surveys
one of the trays on Libra's scales,
wanting to pinch something.

The Crab tries again futilely
to cast away its cancerous nickname.
Leo looks at Pisces' koi pond
and laughs. Capricorn
meets Sagitarius for drinks,
two pals trading stories. Virgo
knows secrets and hordes them.
Gemini considers the alternatives.

hans ostrom 2019


Sometimes I'm an individual,
other times a dividual. More and more,
I'm a digividual harried
by image after image after
image. When I hold two contrasting

views at once, at once I become
a stereovidual, who listens gladly
to the paradoxical jazz of uncertainty,
ambiguous riffs unspooling, unresolved.

This viduality of mine's
less simple than certain very
certain individuals would
have me believe. They would
have me believe in my
singularity. Not so fast, say we.

hans ostrom 2019

Friday, July 12, 2019


"I hates those meeces to pieces!"
                   --Mr. Jinks, cartoon cat

I thought of Aristotle and held
up a mirror to the world. Sunlight
caromed off it and blinded a driver
who almost ran over me, roared
past, shouting his catharsis. I

dropped the mirror, which broke,
delighting a woman who passed by.
Borrowing a broom, I swept up
shards of mimesis, realistic glass.
A hubristic crow overhead tilted
on a line and cawed me out. Crow
was delighted. I was instructed.

hans ostrom 2019


If you think you have the answers,
don't tell me. Tell someone
who matters. I'm out here in
the weeds, walking around
a birch grove, plucking
a blackberry or five, dancing
with vivid women in the desert
of my mind. Although I'm
obscure, people with secrets
seem to find me. I'm telling
you, if you're important, don't
bother with me. I know how
little I can do about big things.

hans ostrom 2019

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Palomino Summer

I drank and drank and drank

                I walked down
powder-dust ruts of an uncle's
dirt road and found that palomino.

Blond horse, quick as fragrance. Blond
summer, baking brown mud. Blond
grass, insane with grasshoppers.
Brown me in the the midst,

palomino's mane brushing my arms
in the rush of gallop. In the woods
next to the ranch, rattlesnakes

coiled, field mice inside them.
pine trees leaned toward
the pasture I rode in.

hans ostrom 2019

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Feel Like

You make me feel
like I have a fancy hat
on my head. The right
size, too. You make
me feel like
I could live among frogs,
as long as you were
pondside with me.

You make me feel
like a lost key
a mermaid picked up
from the bottom
of a sea. That's me.

You make me feel
like a simile
translated into
all the languages,
then printed
on the perfume
of a very peaceful day.

hans ostrom 2019

Friday, June 7, 2019

The Stolen Bin

In news of crime
in privileged places,
somebody stole
my recycling bin.

I'm a longtime
recycler. Hey, I
joined Friends of
the Earth in 1971.

(A lot of good that
did.) I did not know
until today about the
big Black Market

in big blue bins.
Maybe the thieves
sought in scraps
some digits with

which to go all
vampire on my
bloody accounts.
Instead they will

paw as I did through
unsolicited fliers
and mass-mailings.
I said to myself,

bereft of my bin,
"Why would anyone
want to . . ."--and
stopped. Why would

anyone want to
wreck the Earth?
We're way beyond
such questions.

hans ostrom 2019

How About We . . .?

Let's go, stay, sleep,
talk, eat, read, think,
and dance. Some of
these can be combined.

It's snowing in Reno.

Let's sweep, mop,
wash, scrub, sigh.
Let's weep. So hard.
Let's tell secrets.

You first.

hans ostrom 2019

It Is What It Isn't

It's a cocoa cacophony,
a chocolate noise.
It's a bluish red
flower, a purple poise.

It's a fanciful
thing like an
invisible ring.
It's the notion

that we might make
a forest in our minds,
go there, and wander
beneath giant trees,

if we should so please.

hans ostrom 2019

Monosyllables of Our Time

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hans ostrom 2019

A Statistic and I

Someone told me that
on average 153,424 people
die each day. Globally.
That's a terrible thing
to tell someone, I thought,
before thinking of the
galaxies of memory
the minds of 153,424
contained before they

hans ostrom 2019

Memorial Cemetery

(Lakewood, Washington)

It's like farmland, groomed
by commercial lawnmowers,
not cattle. The crop consists

of brass or granite rectangles,
with names and numbers
on them, and sometimes

phrases, and sometimes
the phrase is in the second
person, a you who cannot

hear or read (so what?),
whose bones lie beneath.
There's no harvest, only

planting, deeper than
the grass. Memory must
adjust to the sound of

mowers. There are lots
of names of soldiers,
sailors, pilots, many

from what we call the
Viet Nam War Era, many
who died in their 40s.

hans ostrom 2019

Beauty Likes the Smell of Tuna

"To seek a satisfactory definition
of 'beauty,'" she said, "is as they say
like looking for a black cat in a black
room on a black night," and then
sipped from her third martini.
The bartender replied, "You just
have to remember to take
some tuna with you, then."

hans ostrom 2019

Monday, June 3, 2019

What Will You Have?

Would you like a glass
of water? Would you like
a cup of worry? I've
made some sandwiches
of of bread and beauty.
And mustard, which
goes with beauty. Make
yourself at home. Because
you live here. The
satisfaction is still cooking.
It will be done soon.

hans ostrom 2019


This darkness--
too small suddenly.
I hate it and hit it
with me. I shove
my head and shoulders
through, cracking
this thing that became
a cage overnight.

Comes now the shock
of whatever this is I'm
breathing, seeing, smelling.
Comes the shock now
of its form, my form, me.

Staggering on twig
legs and big feet,
I move through cool
air that burns vision.

Huge shapes walk
around & around me,
wide-eyes, loud,
they gab and gab.

Hunger makes me use
by head as a hammer
and peck. Not knowing
I am, I am.

hans ostrom 2019

Green of the Herbs

Thyme leaves look like frog
tears. Sage leaves
look fog-green suede.

Mint is a warrior
with shiny emerald shields.
Everything runs from it.

What should we say about
parsley? Such a hard worker.
Then it goes mad and pretends

to be a tree.

hans ostrom 2019

Thursday, May 30, 2019

A Circus in Germany

A small Roma circus drags Evolution
to Bretzenheim, tacks up posters,
circles battered vans and trailers,
lets animals and children out to stretch.

A llama and two camels with flaccid humps
stand beneath a canopy, munching nothing,
about them the air of wisdom and dung.

A child rides a hippopotamus onto grass.
She looks like a wart on a planet.
The hippo becomes a gray boulder
upholstered in leather. Its teeth are
as big as my fist, its legs as long
as my fingers. How many million
years ago was it a slender fish?

Villagers cut through the park
to peer at the bestiary. a stinking
goat, smirking camels, and stunted
ponies. Children under the tiny
plastic Big Top can be heard
to scream with glee. In there
creatures and people jump through hoops.

hans ostrom

Monday, April 29, 2019

The Very Nowness of You

 ("The Very Thought of You," a
ballad composed by Ray Noble)

The nowness of you
in your motion and thinking,
the present rectitude of your
existence, with earrings, as
it happens (it happens)--
this is separate from our life
together. Our life together
is an invisible sculpture
representing our ideas
and memories of us. It's
exhibited in the gallery of days.
The you right-now-here is
someone and something
to be discovered, and it seems
I just discovered you one
more time. I find it quite exciting.

hans ostrom 2019

Me and Satie

For me, trying to play
one of Erik Satie's Gnossiennes
on the old scarred Chickering
is like trying to catch trout
minnows with my hands
in a river at dusk: I give up
and just admire the mercurial
flashing school of motion
in last light.

hans ostrom 2019

You Are Not My Phone

You are not my phone, she said. I
like you, yes. I love my phone. I
like you better when you're filtered
through my phone because then
you become a pleasurable meme.

She said, I live with, in, and through
my phone. Okay, he said, then, well,
maybe I'll text you sometime . . .
She replied, You mean never, not
sometime. You don't understand me
because you're not really into your
phone. Not all the way. You lack
commitment. Although he was standing

right in front of her, he texted her. She
looked at her phone, which told her
he'd written I agree--bye! She continued
to let her fingers peck at her phone
like chicken beaks. And did not look
up to see him going away.

hans ostrom 2019

The Ministry of Obvious Questions

At the Ministry of Obvious Questions,
we ask why America is still full of White Supremacists,
including a certain president. Why
can't we create shelter for homeless people
huddling in tents and doorways? Why
is medicine to expensive for working-class
people to buy? One of our favorites is
What's wrong with you people? We
believe, in other words, that it all starts
with asking the obvious questions. The
Ministry of Answers has been instructed
to remain silent. Why is that?

hans ostrom 2019

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Important Reminder

It is important to remember
that at any given moment,
no one in the world (or any
world) is thinking about you.
And that is just fine.

hans ostrom 2019

Thursday, March 14, 2019


unspool filament
one full fill meant
one full fool mentor
fill fool emolument 
feel fray fragment
dune full film tent
soon full tilt sent
hollow, hollow, somewhat
almost always hollow,
do not wallow
in unfulfillment,
help is hopefully on the way
hope is helpfully on the way

hans ostrom 2019

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Your Happy Day

(a spam poem)

Today is your happy
day, 1M has been giving
to you. Send me an email
for inquiries, kind
lady or sir.

hans ostrom 2019

Sunday, March 10, 2019


This place seems to be
falling apart, coming undone.
It's held together by buttons
and brackets, bolts
and rivets, screws, beliefs,
and clamps.  It's shored up
with shibboleths and superstitions.

Cracks, gaps, and rot
proliferate, plastered and painted
over with toxic residues
remaining from rabid denial
of fact, from swollen ignorance.
We get pounded from all sides
by images and sounds
of people talking and shouting
shit that makes no sense. The
general disintegration is monitored
and marketed carefully,
continuously. Now is the bright

summer of stupid authoritarians.
We who have no power or
influence fixate on fixes
that will never happen,
because they may require
evidence, discernment, and change.

hans ostrom 2019

Thursday, February 28, 2019

My Song for You

Days and leeks
and mouths and years.
Ways and beams
and jaws and fears.

Wishes and misses,
fiends and trees.
Reins and stones
and cogs and bees.

This song is for you.
It's not going very well.
It's absent a message,
as you can tell.

Anyway: skunks,
aluminum, flowers.
Sadness and sneezing,
minnows and hours.

hans ostrom 2019


Many molecules
briefly in circulation
so as to articulate
a body-plan, which is
embedded in the material
itself (which is like wood
turning itself into
a house): that's me,

hans ostrom 2019

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Just Plain Hard

Rooted in Oklahoma's winter plains,
unleaved gray-grown trees
graduate from artery trunks
to capillary branches, final
twigs feathering into nothing.

Here people set hard faces
against hard work. At night
neon blooms, blazes--
a reward for getting through
or going to another shift.

Oklahoma, flat and difficult,
cast iron red ground:
look elsewhere for loam. This
is home if you need it to be.
Your choice, maybe.

hans ostrom 2019

Seagulls in Snow

Seagulls in snow step
with authority and bulk
like army officers
from the 18th century.

Their shrieks turn into
mad laughter that shreds
the insulated calm following
flurries. Sometimes

they sit on white
as swans float on water.
In search of food,
they chop at a drift

with heavy yellow
beaks: cutting tools.
The failure of snow
to surge, swirl, pulse,

pound, slap, and leap
like the sea soon bores
them. They jump into
wind then and glide

and fly forthrightly
back to a bay and cliffs
and the raucous, slow
riot of the shore.

hans ostrom 2019

A Number of Words

On the mulish bus
going to the conference,
a mathematics professor
said to a scholar of rhetoric,
"One day you'll
realize that everything
is about numbers."
The rhetorician replied,
"Thank you for telling
me that using words."

hans ostrom 2019

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Resistant to Rain

Before I could fire the poem,
it quit. It had wanted it
to concern blackberries
in Fall (ugh), the labyrinth
of language (whatever), or
fatuous dictators--the deadly
clowns of drowning/frying
civilization (fair enough).

I had directed the poem
to be about,  into, and of
poets in the rain, down
through time, across
the planet. Conjurers,
troubadours, prophets,
lazy bastards, scribblers,
hermits, high-toned culture
bosses, seedy professors,
cowgirls, fierce warrior
queens, rappers, gadflies.

All of them with some
connection to the rain
in their hours amid language
alive. Something epic-ish.

The poem said No. I
offered a severance package--
some nice verbs, a packet
of metaphors, certain adequate
syncopations. The poem
resigned, saying something
ugly (but nicely phrased)
as it stalked off. I'm here

without it, listening
to the intricate tunes of
another rainstorm. (I
welcome all rainstorms
now.) I don't think I'll
ever see that poem again,
but I hope it's somewhere
inside staying warm, sipping
soup--and going to hell
(just kidding).

hans ostrom 2019


Maybe there will be rabbits
in my dreams tonight. Not bunnies--
jackrabbits, wild hares. Maybe
I'll see a vast brown plain filled
with gray smokestacks
overseen by stained skies.

Or maybe centipedes
by the thousands will pour
out of the mouth of the President
of the United States. He'll
speak in centipedes, which
will invade the ears of his
audience. And still a lot
of people won't be horrified.
In fact will be ecstatic.

hans ostrom 2019

Thursday, January 31, 2019

In Starlight Today

Sunlight is starlight, and our sun
is part of a constellation as constructed
by entities in galactic elsewheres.

The starlight was out and all around
today. I walked in it. It was
very bright. I felt good,

strolling and standing there
near a star. It seemed like an
impossible sort of thing to occur.

hans ostrom 2019

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Yelling at the Opera

I think I know exactly
what happened to you.
Over many a conforming
year, you learned not to make
too much of your feelings.
CUT TO: an invitation to
the opera, where every syllable
was bellowed or shrieked,
the singers stuffed with
emotion like gowned
sausages. You felt

buffeted by melodrama,
and you thirsted for a wry
Delta blues song, oblique
and rude. Also brief. To be
trapped at the opera is no
hardship, so you would not
complain. Still it made you
want to yell. So you did,
alarming those assembled
around the intermission bar.
Someone sent for the car.

hans ostrom 2019


          (Chalmers Gage, 1918-2018)

He was a dairy farmer
in Elk Grove, California.
The Valley. The fingers
of his hands were as thick
as saplings, and when he
took a dip of Copenhagen
tobacco, he loaded a third
of a can between lip
and lower teeth. He never

raised his voice. Gave
the impression the world
at large permanently
perplexed him, as if he
were asking himself,
Why do people make
everything so hard when
work is hard enough?"

Of his wife, he sometimes
said, "I don't think I'll ever
figure that gal out." Not
complaining. Just saying.

In his sixties he sold the farm
and lived another 35 years.
Died at a hundred, quiet like,
the one last job to finish.

hans ostrom 2019

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Cat's Eyes Haiku

pupils of a cat's
eyes: flat black stones
under pale green waters

hans ostrom 2019

Time and Me

Time lies in bed beside me.
I put my arm around her. Time
takes walks with me. He is

an old man shuffling. Time
goes to the magic shows
in my mind, where illusions
of vast futures make

the audience feel immortal.
Time advises me. It is a
rationalist. It is a poet.
Time occurs in space,

which takes its time,
all time, with it.

Time is a goat
that will eat anything
and be sacrificed.

hans ostrom 2019

Saturday, January 5, 2019

At the End of an Old Year in Pacifica

    (New Year's Eve, 2018, Pacifica)

As the people
in the loud house
toast something
or other, a dog
stands among them,
eager to find
actionable meaning
in a human sound
or gesture. The
people know what
many words and gestures
mean, and this creates
a burden the dog
will never know.
All gathered are
mammals on the edge of
a coast. In its way
that is something to toast.

hans ostrom 2019


Pavement is silence.
Rain is noise. Air's
a mystery filled
with solutions.
Trees, an anguish;
factories, a
disappointment. I
have heard the music
that results from
your playing. It is
less interesting than
you are, but I don't
blame it.

hans ostrom 2019

Unhappy Meal

The soup is thin
and dejected. I console
it while ladling.
The bread is dry, as
rigid as a hateful pastor.
I introduce the bread
to the soup and it
softens. The wine's eyes
are bright with tears.
It misses vineyard
sunshine. I sip it gently.

This is sustenance. I am
grateful for it but
cannot deny it
is a meal in mourning.
Therefore I finish
and leap up, kind of.
I flee in search of
rich desserts or a
witty woman in a red
dress or both.

hans ostrom 2019