About Red Tales

Here's an evolving electronic collection of short prose pieces, with a poem contributed occasionally. Brevity guides. Although sometimes a piece will run to 900 words, most pieces are much shorter. Here one may find erotica, flash fiction, brief observations, and modest improvisations. Another rule is that each piece must have something to do with"red"; at least the word has to appear in each piece functionally. . . . All pieces are numbered and titled, so there's a de facto table of contents running down the rail below, under "Labels" (scroll down a bit). Browse for titles that look interesting, if you like. Thank you for stopping by. Look for some red today, tonight.

"Flaming June," by Frederick Lord Leighton

"Flaming June," by Frederick Lord Leighton

Thursday, December 17, 2009

98. Welder

You pull down the metal mask, peer through its window, lift a thin metal rod with pincers connected to lines. You're a knight who got turned into a laboring wizard-- in a union if you're lucky. The rod sizzles, crackles, flares, smokes--wants to become the metal it touches. You're unfazed by rain of fire. Tiny meteors of sizzling metal fizz and cascade.

It's all to create connections, fuse fragments, to lay a molten bead between two solids. Such a strange ceremony. The cloth around your neck, red, is soaked with sweat--layers below the other covering.

Such a strange ceremony.

Someone passing sees light flare against the window of your primitive mask, sees you crouched in midst of fire and noise, treats you like an executioner, scurries. After a while, you stop, peel back the visor, breathe and blink, having risen from the altar of Hephaestus. It's payday.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

97. Red In Brueghel's ICARUS

Auden instructed me
long ago how to view
Bruegel’s Icarus and
note the white legs
between shore and ship:
such a small and pitiful
percentage of pigment
on the scape. Now
I’ve looked again,
rediscovered wonders
in the view: the sun’s
genial, obese collision
with horizon; fat,
billowed sails; a
apparition above
one ship; the supple
curves of furrows
at the farmer’s feet;
the sacred, mellow
light into which
the plow-horse stares.
And the only red
of the painting flares
in the farmer’s blouse:
how anomalous
and right. About red,
Brueghel was not
profligate but wise.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Monday, November 30, 2009

96. Marx And Home Repairs

(image: Karl Marx, reaching for his copy of the Manifesto)
I imagine a window in Karl Marx's apartment going all wrong--dry rot in the sill, a crack in the pane, the framing so loose that Winter rides in on a howl and a whistle.

Marx has his wife hire workmen--two. One's a beet-faced beer-drinker with sausage-fingers and a bull's neck. Marx thinks this one's the carpenter, but he's the glazier. The carpenter's a thin, bearded, sallow fellow who takes measurements as seriously as scripture or theory and wears red suspenders.

The men bring an odor of sweat and onions to Marx's life. They tighten the window, which silences Marx's toughest critic, the wind. When it comes time to pay, Marx thinks the men charge too much. He quibbles. This is never recorded in dialectical history.

The men aren't surprised. Professors are tight with money--well known. Outside, putting their tools away in a cart, the men marvel at how many books Herr Marx owns. "You'd think one or two would be enough," says the massive glazier. "I'm told he writes about workers," says the slender carpenter. "What about them?" asks the other. "I don't know. Probably something fanciful."

"That window should last a while," says the glazier. They look up. Marx's wife is looking down at them.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

95. Cherry Moles

The dermatologist calls them cherry moles and says they're harmless even if they look alarmist.

They are moles tired of living in a how-now-brown-cow-town, where everything from boots to diner-toast seems kind of, you know, ordinary, and the red sound of a siren is such a welcome change, and the mayor, Mr. Angioma, is deranged.

The cherry moles are ruby red and seem to mark special places on the skin's map; however, the skin's map points to nothing but itself, and you cannot use it to find treasure. It is no map in truth. It does not represent Duluth.

With a magnifying glass, the dermatologist travels across the country of the skin, sometimes stopping at a bright cherry mole and muttering, "Harmless."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

94. Late Red Flowering

A few blue flowers cling to long stalks in October. The latest blooming thing, though, is an herb, a type of sage. Scarlet petals adorn its conical pods, which will release seeds on to cold November ground. I stare at the late disarray, a disheveled tableau of flowers and herbs gone seeding. My eyes water: an allergy to something, maybe, or a reaction to brusque breezes. Out comes the red handkerchief. I dab around my eyes so I can look again clearly at bright surprising scarlet petals, so vivid they're an irony as November's gray attitude approaches.

Monday, October 26, 2009

93. Sienna on Greens

In Danila Rumold's painting, Sienna on Greens (2006), we're invited to wander in color, where several bright leaves seem to hover over clay. We may stay at first impressions or go, not deeper, per se, just elsewhere or otherwise. Our eyes might focus on bluish ground-mist in an illusory distance, for instance. What we think when color occurs to us matters. It's no less futile than the rest, that is. When you see sienna, you may see clay in Sierra or nothing of the sort. A painting's like, and a painting is, and a painting goes as it stays.

Monday, October 12, 2009

92. Someone Hid Red

Someone hid red from the landscape, which remained ashen, blue, and brown all winter.

Red fallen leaves were composted instantly. Goodbye to color. Cardinals had migrated, and every rose was dead and blanched into an insufficient beige.

Finally, someone lit a cigarette. Its tip glowed red. The smoker puffed and smiled. He was an advance-man for Spring. He carried a sample-case full of possible red things. In his experience, Winter was a good customer, eager if not desperate for red.

91. Drought

Forgive us when we trespass into thinking drought's a curse. Fire makes it worse, feasting on dry grass, making us spend more water, turning sunsets to the color of blood.

A flash-flood now would slaughter each parched canyon and inundate our boulevards. We live between Too Much, you see, and Not Enough. Us: precarious. Forgive us if we speak to sky and ask to be forgiven, if we stare at baked clay and try to taste the air.

Friday, October 9, 2009

90. Writing With Students

I'm writing with students in a glass gazebo-cafe.

Four stainless steel fans overhead turn slowly like denatured propellers.

Pens sprout from the students' hands, which bunch into loose fists to spar with cursive.

An aimless cafe-song leaks from a speaker. The students get serious, leaning into writing, silently reading lines they've laid out so far, shaping this thing on a page called a poem.

One of the students sips from a green straw that descends into iced red tea.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

89. Before The 6:12 Departure

A young woman wearing a brown coat and a red beret and carrying a briefcase scowled at an approaching rainstorm, entered a metro station.

A moving, shifting group of others hurrying toward transport to jobs absorbed her. Her body was among their bodies. She walked into the rest of her life.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

88. Painted Toe-Nails

Why do women paint their toes, ten red squares (of sorts) in two rows; --beneath the paint, ten slightly plump and variably sized nodes of flesh that grip, relax, curl, relax, navigate, and nap?

I don't know why they paint their toes. I don't need to know. I just like the pleasure of asking. I wonder what persons in what cultures were first to paint the nails on toes. Maybe an anthropologist wearing sandals knows.

Properly speaking and properly painting, women paint toe-nails, not toes. Women are said to have their toenails "done." They participate in pedicures. Or they trim and paint their toes themselves.

And then the toes are free to glow, go redly in sandals or in shoes or in shoes, or unshod before God. Some women paint their toenails. This is good. All fine by be, toes glowing redly.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

87. Red Undancies, Etc.

I left my red Iculous out in the sun, and I'll be a son of a gun if it didn't fade to pink, as if to ridicule me for my spelling error.

I think the red Efining moment of my life occurred when my mother birthed me into the hands of a country doctor.

The boss said we needed to red Ouble our efforts because, I guess, the accountants found out our efforts weren't sufficiently Oubled.

Frankly, in all honesty, and to tell you the truth, I am no fan of red Undancy. I like my Undancies to be blue, green, or black.

The documents provided by the Government were so red Acted that they'd become works of art, vast cold ponds of black ink into which facts had disappeared.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

86. Queen of Hearts

Queen of Hearts, you are not needed. You have been feeding off of hate too long. Queen of Hearts, silence yourself, put your grudges on a shelf, go to good work, go into your heart.

Queen of Hearts, your era's ended, or let let us hope it has. Queen of Heart, Queen of Hatred, you're not needed. We have pleaded long enough for sensible and kind, for empathy, for mind; for mindfulness.

Queen of Hearts, you're not a fiction. You are fact. You act; more is the pity.

Queen of Hearts, you are not needed. Please relent, your hatred spent.

Monday, September 14, 2009

85. How Oxygen Loves Red

Each breath's a dose of oxygen, breathed from pink-red lungs.

When oxygen hits an open wound, sometimes the red blood screams.

When iron falls in love with air, the tragedy begins. Rust is evidence of oxygen's lust.

When lightning torches forest, oxygen goes mad, builds halls and towers of flame and wants to obliterate all dry and fibrous things with its red empire, voracious inferno.

When did oxygen's addiction to red begin? As early as when Universe exploded into being?

Today I saw something exposed to air too long. A red mold lightly dusted it, cosmetic and sinister. In a room somewhere, oxygen could be heard to chuckle. Then it danced through the ducts of a red brick building.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

84. Red Lights In A Blue-Black Storm

When hard rain came again at night, pounding pavement and rattling roofs, slanting in at low angles, she parted curtains and looked out at relentless water, which hit the city--not her city but one in which she'd ended up, the way we do after we take this step, make that choice, get jostled by that or this accident or willful impulse; and as her mind absorbed the image, her gaze also saw red lights at a train-crossing, far off in that blue-black mass of night, so far off that they seemed sometimes to wink off, blink on, and she remembered, and she spoke quietly to the cold window made to creak by gusts, "Why do I let myself forget the mantra, it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter, I'm here, and here I am?"

Friday, September 11, 2009

83. Re-imagining Twill

An Entity sent "him" an email communicating the assertion that a retailer of clothing pretends to desire "to re-imagine twill."

Let us re-imagine twill, then, he thought: tillers and pickers of cotton; overseers of humans; workers in mills; diverters of water; bankers of loans; spinners of fiber; cutters of cloth; drivers of loads; sewers of costumes; sad sellers and buyers; the hours of work-grinding-work that were in fact counted but were in experience infinite and obliterative.

Imagine, re-imagine with me (said the man to his friend), the notion of twill, red twill, tailored, re-tailored, retailed, and emailed; red twill re-imagined in An Exciting New Look For the Fall.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

82. Lois And The Greatness of American Poetry

Lois read where some noted assessor of poetry had opined that American poetry was in danger of losing its "greatness.'

She was relieved to know that, at least by inference, poetry from Mexico, Canada, South Africa, Sweden, Japan, Cuba, Iran, Luxembourg, and Egypt (for example) was going to retain its greatness.

Lois didn't, however, know what the man meant by "greatness," which she suspected might be a quality much debated in some circles, squares, and rhombuses, and which in most cases was a manufactured, illusory status, as it was in the case of soft-drinks, popular music, and vegetables.

Also, how (Lois wondered) would this fellow know about American poetry? Sure, he allegedly read a lot of it, but still, what percentage of all American poetry had he, did he, read? Not only hadn't he defined greatness, but his statistical sample was suspect, the greater sin in this Age of Stats.

Then, of course, there was The Dickinson Factor. Assuming we might agree on what greatness meant, assuming we could read all American poetry being written, some great American poetry might be getting produced by people who kept it to themselves, out of sight. Dickinson had loathed publication. She put her stitched-together books in drawers. She even wrote a poem mocking publication. And yet her poetry had been published, eventually, and it turned out to be great.

Lois suspected that the Noted Opiner might be a fan of such American Poetic Titans as Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and Allen Ginsberg, whose poetry was like a train that announced itself as Great before it roared through town. After it roared through town, there were critics riding on the back of the caboose reminding the town that some great poetry had just roared through. Wa-hoo!

Lois believed several things about American poetry--and about poetry in general. She believed it was less concerned with its citizenship than people assumed. She knew of no poem that carried a passport. Second, Lois believed greatness was like a shuttlecock that critics batted back and forth on the sunny lawn of criticism, back behind the old-fashioned sanitarium. On the list of, say, three million things to worry about, "the greatness of American poetry" probably didn't rank higher than 2, 753,618.

Finally, Lois believed that if American poets--indeed, all poets--just kept using the word "red" from time to time, and well, their poetry would be just fine, "just fine" being a kind of breeding ground for greatness. "Shun not the word 'red,' poets": that was Lois's sage advice. As for the man who'd gotten a head-start on mourning the loss of great American poetry, Lois had these words of hidden advice: "Silly boy."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

81. Sexy Wine Women

Light low, world pretending to be at bay, a few kind things to say: ah, dear, the rim of the wine glass is a lip of light, and someone has murmured something about sexy wine women.

Sexy wine women?

Sure, paint and wine blur, words and feelings. Our time and wine are full of light. Our light isn't full of time. Be comfortable. Have some wine. We're here whether we're supposed to be or not. The glorious rot, red wine. Your smile gives light an attitude, and light loves your hair, sexy wine woman.


80. Cabernet Franc

Found Poem: Cabernet Franc

The nose shows aromas
of plum, cranberry, cassis, and
pepper. The mouth is clean
and ripe, with youthful pie-cherry
red berries and plums
that are unencumbered by oak. The
tannins are well managed,
and the finish is fruity,
velvety. It lingers for
some time.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

79. Blues In Three Paragraphs

Once there was a woman. A woman once was. Her name was given to her, oh yes, and she kept it. Here though she is She. She grew up into bewilderment, love, enthusiasm, disappointment, heartache, hard work, shame, loss, and affliction--in her specific life's, however, particular ways. Sorrow filled her days, her spirit, as darkness fills a lake at twilight--heavy but untouchable, deep and complete. And so she sang.

The Blues, her blues. Crudely, freely, authentically, often, and finally well. She didn't put her heart into the blues. The blues came out of her heart-so-to-speak like trout leaping out of a dark lake and shined on by moonlight. She sang of it all in a line, that line repeated, and a third line rhyming with the two.

One of her songs was about a red dress given to her by a lover; oh yes, a lover. Lover left. Dress remained. Impulsively she sold the dress for a lot of nothing because it hurt too much to wear the dress, and/or to keep it and not wear it would hurt, too. Yes, indeed. Red, red, said. Broke, broke, joke. Cry, cry, why? Confess, confess, red dress. She had the blues, and they had her. She sang those Red Dress Blues--well, well; and those blues and the singing made her feel good, let light into the lake. The blue lake.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

78. Sedan In the Manzanita

In the brush just below the Buttes Road, someone abandoned an old Ford sedan. Yes, a steel car sat in manzanita.

Who? Why? We didn't ask those questions. We rode by. No one ever towed the car. The thing became a fact. Brush has overwhelmed and hidden it. Fabric and tires disappear fast. Soon, we guess, it all gets down to the chassis.

Oxidation works away. Its shifts run round the clock. Red iron seeks red clay.

Was it by accident or design the car came to rest, to disintegrate, there? Design and accident both, maybe, not either/or. Also, after enough seasons of sun and snow, accident becomes design, you know, and design begins to seem improvised if not haphazard. When, who, what, why, and how leach into the where at which a steel frame comes to rest.

You can't see it from the road now, even if you could find the road and the place below. No, you'd have to know already it was there, and you'd look at the brush, and you might think, yes, yes I think that's the place, all right. All right.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

77. Pun Debt

I want to take a notion cruise, perhaps visit a dessert aisle?

I should like to explore cites of hysterical importance.

I have wonderlust, it seems, a need to sea the whirl and sale the seize.

Ultimately, I shall compost a travel-log, marmolize my daze for posteriority in hoops my words shall be widely red.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

75. Mountain Goat

Look: out of these words pops a mountain goat. White and horned, it stands on a blue ledge in Montana.

Consider the image an entertainment, if you like, one that's free.

You may enjoy it as you will, flipping it like a coin, arranging it with other images, letting it go like one red blossom fallen from a tree.

The image of the mountain goat belongs to you, you see. You see.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

74. Black Rectangle, Red Signal

He kept the television off because he discovered a television off is a large black rectangle in a room and as such holds more interest than what the television is given by the Flow Factory to spray into the rooms of Viewers.

So every evening he watched Black Rectangle. He imagined, thought, and wondered.

Ensuing days found him pretending the black rectangle went with him on his life's wee routes. When his boss was bossing him, he conjured the black rectangle just above the boss's head.

On the Metro, he pretended the black rectangle sat with him in weariness, silence, and a new-found bemusement.

Ah, but the the black rectangle always displayed one tiny red dot, an electronic mole on its sleek epidermis, a signal the television was always ready to be Powered Up.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

73. Continuous Soft Hits

A voice from the car-radio promises "continuous soft hits," and I imagine a boxing match featuring cartoonishly large red gloves stuffed with eider down.

Another voice declares traffic to be a mess "no matter what direction you're headed." As usual, the car and I are headed forward, yet traffic is not a mess, and how does the possessor of the voice know where I am headed?

I wish another voice on the radio would explain how radio works. It's something to do with electrons and frequencies, but I fear I'll never understand, and I long for the voice of Marconi.

I change "stations," and loud voices of two men bicker. Neither voice will define terms, banish bad analogies, resist the temptation to interrupt, or sustain nuanced argumentation, and now I begin to wonder whether the radio's inhabited by entry-level demons.

I wonder also why radio is still around, now that more highly evolved creatures of electronic digitechnics have left in a quaint, pitiable state.

Why indeed am I directing my automobile forward, listening to radio, when I could be an avatar, a hologram, an astral body?

A voice on the radio urges "me" to "hurry" because "the offer" is "for a limited time only" and "certain restrictions apply," but alas I seek eternal offers with uncertain restrictions, offers toward which I may amble sluggishly. I want to tell the radio it is, though dear to me, unsatisfactory. The automobile, the radio, and I stop behind a white line beneath a red traffic-light.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

72. Glow

You said it would be red, and you were right. You were correct about its redness.

How did you know the glow in question would be crimson? You were so sure, did not demur, yet did not lord your knowledge over us, us the we who were so misinformed about the color of the thing caught in a crossfire of perception.

You knew red would be revealed, and so you said so. That is the way to go, indeed, when indubitably you know. You know?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

71. The Place

Look around the corner. See the store with the red sign? That's the place.

Don't look too long. Get back in the alley. What kind of place? you ask. What's sold or bought there? What kind of work goes on? Yes, I know, the words on the red sign aren't much help. As you noticed, they say The Place.

Do you want to look again? Do you want to leave the alley? How did you end up here listening to me? Look around the corner. Is the sign still there? Is the world? Tell me, tell me what you see, and I'll tell you what I know about The Place

Saturday, June 27, 2009

70. Night of the Topics

I didn't want to write about my father's death, so I went door-to-door, saying, "Tell me what to write. Give me an assignment."

The police took me in for questioning. At the station, they said, "Your behavior is strange." "Not so," I said, "no, it's methodical. I said, "Give me a crime--almost any crime will do. I'll write a confession--very detailed."

The police became impatient with me and let me go with a warning--no more solicitation of topics--got it?

On the bus, I asked my fellow travelers what I should write. One man slugged me. "Write that up," he said. I tossed off a poem about getting slugged--and about buses being transitory villages. "It doesn't rhyme," the man said, having examined the poem. I slugged him back, but not hard. "Rhyme that, Buster," I said. I'm not proud of my reaction, nor of the poem.

Expelled from the transitory village and wishing not to see my friends the police, I hoped to bump into my father's ghost, but I did not do so. My father didn't believe in ghosts, and he hated to be contradicted, so even if his ghost appeared, it would have made sure I didn't see it, just to prove a point.

I pretended my father was alive and told me not to write about his death but to write something for one of Reader's Digest's regular departments, such as "Humor In Uniform," or to write something for Full Cry: The Magazine of the American Coon Hound Association.

Later I went on listening to this city, which my father never visited, in which he never lived. I refused to write about his death.

I went home and read a paperback mystery with a red cover. My father read thousands of such pulp-novels, munching them with his stone-mason's hands, taking them as they were, something to do while snow piled up and the wood stove moaned and the hounds slept and my mother read The Sacramento Bee--the one from the day before: because that day "the Bee man" had spun his truck off the slick black highway near a place called Slate Castle.

Rex Stout, Ellery Queen, Max Brand, Ernest Haycox, Louis L'Amour--these were among the authors whose books my father read. These boys knew exactly what to write, and, like my father, they wore hats. Never caps. Hats.

I have completed my assignment for tonight. What was it? The sun is coming up on the next page.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

69. Placed

Placed and placid lay the stone at the center of the town.

Down poured sunlight, heating the stone, which had existed long before concepts like sunlight, down, poured, and stone existed.

Walking by, a woman in red shoes stopped before the stone, touched it; it was warm.

Feeling effects of sunlit stone, she felt placed and placid now. She understood belonging, was of that town and of that stone.

Monday, May 4, 2009

68. Song: Lady of the Dew

Song: Lady of the Dew

She may visit you tonight
Cast in red uncanny light.
Her perfume may make you dream
You float on a silver stream.

She's the Lady of the Dew,
Child of morning, bride of night.
She has power over you.
No, you will not want to fight.

Sharp logic and bright light
May convince you she can't be.
Then comes dusk; then comes night.
You'll believe what you can see.

She may visit you tonight.
She's the Lady of the Dew,
Cast in red uncanny light.
Her perfume may make you dream
She has power over you.
Floating down a silver stream,
No you will not want to fight.
She's the Lady of the Dew,
Child of morning, bride of night.

You'll believe what you can see
After dusk, into the night.
She's the Lady of the Dew
Cast in red uncanny light.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Sunday, April 19, 2009

67. Red Chair

I went to see my friend at his house. He was sitting in his living room. The bank had taken the rest of the house. Walls, windows, roof, rooms, chimney--all gone except for a section of floor, a carpet, and a chair with my friend in it. A red chair.

"How's it going?" I asked.

"Jill and the kids are living with her mother."

"I always liked this room," I said.

"Did they have to take my television?" he asked.

I shrugged.

He said, "I went down to the bank yesterday. I wanted to yell around. But another bank had taken over that bank, so all that was left was one office on the fourth floor. The rest of the building was gone."

"Yeah," I said, "they usually leave one person behind in an office just for appearances. And then that person disappears."

"There wasn't anyone in the office. A crow sat on the desk, pecking papers."


"What I don't get," he said, "is how that office can stay suspended without the rest of the building to hold it up."

"What I don't get," I said, "is that and all the rest. Anyway, come and live with us."

"Okay. But you'll grow sick of me, and we'll stop being friends."

"Yes," I said, "but not right away. This is the hospitable phase. We mustn't think too many moves ahead. Let's bring that chair with us, shall we?"

Sunday, April 5, 2009

66. Tomatoes

When home-grown tomatoes turn red, the gardener says, "Welcome. You've come a long way. How do you feel?"

The red tomatoes don't answer the gardener because they haven't heard anything and can't speak anyway. The gardener knows this.

Much of gardening concerns gesture, however. Much of gardening concerns waiting. Lots of gardening concerns work.

Sometimes a gardener needs to say something to something that's ripened, such as a tomato. Or a strawberry. Or a raspberry, right before the gardener plucks the raspberry, pops it into his or her mouth, tastes, and comes close to swooning. Gardeners tend not actually to swoon because stones and sharp edges always seem to be nearby. --Better to remain standing. Or seated.

Sometime a gardener just needs to stand there and talk to a red tomato, or to sit there and murmur like evening air, as birds make noise and bugs swarm.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

65. Mimetic Complications

Yesterday--or was it last year?--she held a mirror up to nature. A lithe branch whipped out of nature and cracked the mirror, which was, however, already useless because of fog and mist.

Then she started to make a list of things and creatures she saw, but a couple of them sent her mind down tangled trails of association until she got stuck in thought.

Subsequently the form of the list intrigued her, so much so that she played with that, ignoring nature.

Then her musings become comparative. She wondered how painters, musicians, real-estate "developers," hunters, actors, bird-watchers, escaped prisoners, and religious zealots would react to the scene before her.

Soon she had a smile on her face, a sack of mirror-shards, an unreadable list, and hunger, so she got back in the red conveyance and headed down the hill of nature.

Friday, March 13, 2009

64. Barbarian At The Gate

I'm a barbarian, and over there's the gate. It is red. Actually, I'm from a small town outside Barbar.

There's an old man having coffee at a table near the gate. He offers. I sit.

"So--what's the gate to?" I ask.

"It's to civilization, of course," he says. "What are you--some kind of barbarian?"

I order coffee and pastry. He talks. "They're in there falling apart--greed, lying, a state-mania for control, horrific weaponry, economic injustice, bovine media, and an odd blend of incompetence and arrogance."

"I'll be darned," I say. "How's it going to turn out, in your opinion?"

"You should know the answer to that already. Don't they teach history anymore in Barbar?"

"You're a Barbarian, too?!" I ask.

"Born and raised," he says. Then we heard shouting from inside the gate.

"They're in there blaming us for their problems. They're using a sophisticated lingo of hate, fear, and xenophobia."

"How trite," I observe. "However, technically, we are Barbarians at the gate."

"You couldn't pay me enough to go in there," he says. I name a figure. "I might reconsider," he says.

"Merely a thought experiment," I say. I pay for us both and leave a robust gratuity. The server comes over, and I ask, "Is there a bookstore around here?" The server looks at us and sneers and says something most barbarous to us. Nonetheless, I let the gratuity lie as it is. The server leaves.

The old man says, "Civility is often a blade that power unsheathes and waves in the air."

"Is that so?" I say. He's not an easy person with whom to converse. We part company, but we both go in directions away from the gate.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

63. For a Landing

The airplane glided over a bay, around which millions of people lived, and light from the low sun turned some water red. On the plane, I thought of the people down there all doing and saying all at once what they say and do, verbal and bodily, base and mysterious, reasoned, instinctual, weird, private, public: all of it, all of them, all at once in a moment, and of course I could only imagine someone imagining it because even one interval of its totality can't be represented. There is no realism big enough to handle reality. The airplane landed.

Monday, March 9, 2009

62. They're Almost Here

Tomorrow the space-ship is landing. Everyone's pretty excited.

The aliens--they prefer to be called the Others, in English at least--purchased Earth, and apparently the deal just went through escrow.

Well, they didn't purchase all of Earth, just what we call real estate, most of which they'll lease back to us on very reasonable terms, I am told.

They're paying for everything with what we call precious metals. Rumor has it they did the equivalent of laughing when they "heard" that phrase.

The Others own such things as gold planets. They vaporize metal and reconstitute it on Earth somehow. If I knew the physics of it, I wouldn't be working here.

They've promised to help humans survive. To that end, they started by deactivating sustantive military weapons, putting spells on politicians (et alia), and giving the atmosphere a good scrub. We'll see if it works. Personally, I have my doubts.

What are we going to do with all that gold?. . . . Their ship, by the way, is alleged to be bright red. We'll see tomorrow. And the Others themselves are as multi-colored as a big box of crayons, according to reports. That, my friends, is pretty cool. Tomorrow, then.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

61. Newspapers in the Red

The newspapers are disappearing. Some are getting thin and blank like fashion models. They report on sports and the city council, then surrender to pages of adverts and coupons. Other papers get sold overnight to petroleum companies, traveling circuses, or no one. They disappear like people the governments kidnap.

Some newspapers are going "online," which in this case seems to be a euphemism. Anyway, going online doesn't quite work. They post the stupid stories, the reporters write blogs instead of news-stories, and you can't spill coffee on the stories, pick them up, and see a brown ring on top of words. Blogging isn't reporting: this just in from the news-desk.

Next, I suppose, will come micro-newspapers--3 inches by 6 inches. The reporters will write in haiku:

Stock market plummets.
White heron flies in local mist.
Janvier is champ.

-- Or: soon will there be nanonewspapers, which you stick in your ear?

I always liked newspapers, even when they missed the big stories and kissed the asses of power. Newspaper feels good in the hands, photos on paper are fun, headlines are less thrilling online, and oh, my, those great newsprint cartoons--like Out Our Way. But this is no time for nostalgia and elegies.

Still, there they go, the newspapers, slipping into accounting's red ink. I think of the reporters, who will have no medium through which to report, predictions of the Online Oracles notwithstanding. I think of people lifting the two rectangles of an open newspaper and putting their faces in the space between rectangles to read, to lose their vision in news.

I recall a riddle from childhood: "What is black and white and red [read] all over?"

"A newspaper."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

60. Wounded

In that first instant when
you look at a gash in your own
flesh, you see the cut's impersonal
beauty: dark red meat, blood,
and luxurious flaps of skin. Then
comes alarm and pain and panic
(and a tiny gnat-like voice that
whispers, How could you be so
clumsy?). Mind and adrenalin
launch responses. Whatever
was beautiful about that wound
has vanished. The grabbed,
makeshift wrapping's soaking
through, wet red. You're hurt.
"I'm hurt," you think. "I gotta
get some help." You want to hear
the red and pulsing sound of sirens
coming with people and proficiency.
You're hurt. It hurts. You're wounded.

Monday, February 23, 2009

59. Generic Apology

I have lied, boasted, envied, hated, wounded, failed, cheated, stolen, binged, lusted, languished, pretended, bullied, wept, railed, shouted, wimpered, slurred, cringed, cowered, feared, flagged, frightened, fucked up, misspelled, misread, mistyped, mistook, insulted, offended, fell short, gone too far, ignored, followed, led, instigated, shirked, fainted, sinned, fobbed off, suffered, attacked, retreated, recoiled, forgotten, remembered, preened, primped, coveted, stank, stooped, grabbed, and garbled; also, I have worn a bright red tie. I am sorry, and I am sorry, and I apologize.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

58. The Rhetoric of Rejection

(dedicated to all writers toiling in the trenches around the globe and in innumerable genres and situations; peace be with you, brothers and sisters)

The Rhetoric of Rejection

Forgive this form-response its sins,
but due to the volume of queries we
quaff, our belched rebuffs must be
uniform. . . . Loved the writing, but
I'm afraid this isn't quite right for us;
indeed, it is quasi-wrong. . . . I can't
imagine anything interesting about
this topic. Indeed, I can't imagine.
. . . . Thank you for sending
us the complete manuscript
we requested; it looked quite promising
a decade ago when we received it, and
we do apologize for the delay, but
we're afraid it (the manuscript, not
the decade or the delay), is not quite
right for us . . . .Your first idea is too
old-fashioned, and your second is too
unusual, and at our agency, the center
is what holds. . . . We can't help you. . . .
Due to the volume, the market, the
predictions of Nostradamus, our
location in Manhattan, London,
Toronto, and Los Angeles, your
being unimportant, our being well
positioned, there being many famous
writers we can cash in on, and
your being just another godforsaken
writer, we do not regret to tell you
to jump in the fiery lake of an artist's
solitary, obscure hell. In fact, yours
is one of the manuscripts about which
we joked this week. We turned a line
of dialogue into a running gag. God,
it felt good to laugh at your work. . . .
The kingdom, the power, and the
glory of publishing are ours, not yours. . . .
You're a sucker. Any questions?. . . .

I'm afraid the writing itself got in the way
of this manuscript's being composed of blank
pages, which we rather prefer. In fact,
we're close to perfecting a publishing-system
in which writers are unnecessary. . . . I
didn't really have time to read your
manuscript, but in general, I can advise you
that characters should be round, conflict
is important, and works should have a
beginning, a middle, and an end. I hope
this advice helps you with what I haven't
read. . . . My response may reveal a certain
deficit of attention that masks itself as
illiteracy, but I assure you that I was meant
to be a literary agent. . . . Who the fuck
do you think you are, sending our agency
a query? Do you know who we are? Did
you look at our list of prestigious clients,
you moron? . . .Our agency provides
an expensive service whereby we read
your writing, send you a pre-fabricated
assessment, and take your money. Are
you interested? . . . . I loved your book, but
the agency just fired me, and no one else
there will advocate for it. Weird, huh? I'd
definitely call this a bad break. . . . This
came very close, but we can't have that sort
of thing happening, so we're pushing it
further away, all the way back to you,
in fact, so it's not close anymore. . . . .Truth
to tell, we hate writers. Can you blame us?
There are too many of you. You seem to be
either naive or arrogant. Not to be callous or
anything, but we'd like to thin the herd of
scribblers. . . . Truth to tell, we hate writing,
publishing, ourselves, our overhead, editors,
the market, our lives, commuting to Manhattan
from Brooklyn and beyond, and your book. . . .
We don't wish you the best of luck. . . . Writers
make their own luck. . . . Your rubber bands
are red. We prefer blue. Boo-hoo!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

57. A Novel Returns To Live With Its Author

In manuscript form, a novel decided to leave its author, see a bit of the world, and attempt to get published. Life out there, the novel discovered, is rough.

To the novel, it seemed like everyone it met wanted it to be not what it was. Longer. Shorter. This story--not that story. Move this there. No, keep it here. Add. Subtract. Faster. Slower. The language is too literary. Not literary enough. More. Less. Don't start here, for heaven's sake. Start there. No, don't start there. Start here. Your characters, novel, are wooden. Your characters are steel. They are real. They feel. I feel nothing for these characters, novel. I couldn't stop reading you, novel. I stopped reading you, in disgust. You're dumb. I hate you. That would never happen. Can they do that?

These are some of the things the novel heard said about and to it.

"I've been to that town," someone told the novel, "and it's not like that there." (The novel had invented the town; the town was a piece of fiction.)

"Less persuasion," said someone, of and to the novel. The person was the most rigid, maniacally opinionated person the novel had met so far in its sojourns. The person would not brook disagreement.

"I couldn't finish you," someone else said to the novel. "You bore me." The novel barely heard this because the person was, well, boring.

"I couldn't stop reading you," someone else said, "and I wish this sort of thing were selling, but it's not."

Someone else lectured the novel: "You don't know what you're talking about."

So the novel came back to live with the author for a while. It hadn't been able to find steady work. The novel said to the author, "I never felt as though they were reading me. I felt as though I were reading them, looking through a keyhole into their tiny worlds, in which they seemed unhappy."

"I'm sorry," the author said.

"It's not your fault," said the novel.

"It most certainly is," said the author. "I wrote you, and I rewrote you, and I rewrote . . . ."

"--What I discovered," the novel said, "is that almost no one has time to read, and those that do don't read with curiosity, exactly. If they read, they read the way gluttons eat, with compulsion but without awareness."

"I'll be darned," said the author.

"What I also learned," said the novel, "is that, unfortunately, I annoy people, but here's the problem: never for the same reason. I seem to be variously, multiply, and flexibly annoying. I am a font of annoyance. And now here I am--back living with you. I'm such a loser."

"No," the author said. "You're family. If the world needed either of us, it would have called long ago and left a detailed message. I love you," the author told the novel. "Stay as long as you like. You're actually a hell of a novel. I just read you again, when you weren't looking. I didn't realize you were good until you came back. Sometimes I actually apologized for you when you were away, I'm embarrassed to say."

"But what about . . . publication?" asked the novel.

"There's that," said the author. "But it's over-rated. Other things I've written have been published. Sure, a few people make a living at it, but they usually kill themselves doing it, or they mold what they write to an industrialized shape. Publication raises pride's blood-pressure in the author. . . . But as for you--would you be any different if you were published?"

"I'd be copy-edited," the novel said. "It's like cosmetic surgery. You know, 'having work done.' I'd have new clothes. I was thinking of a red jacket, as a matter of fact."

"Fair enough," said the author. "Those are good reasons to get published."

"Otherwise, no," the novel said. "I'd still be what I am, and I'm just not sure what they're up to out there. They have their own problems."

"How about if I buy a new red folder and have you wear that?" the author said.

The novel laughed. "That would be cool."

"Let's eat," said the author.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

56. Supra; or, The Moral Machine

It was called Supra, and it was designed to be the computer of computers.

All major institutions—governmental, military, and corporate included--relied on it to synthesize and oversee everything in all other computers.

Before Supra came into being, it was thought to be a science-fictional fancy, a theoretical ideal, or both. After it came into being, it was thought at first merely to be an inevitable result of computer science. The prevailing attitude was “Well, of course we have Supra now—why wouldn’t we?”

Supra was so big and fast that not only did it have the capacity to know everything, but it also had the capacity to know things in a number of ways only it could calculate. That is, each bit of information Supra knew was known by Supra in what, to human observers, seemed like innumerable contexts. Moreover, Supra continually invented new contexts in which to view information, and it continually gathered new information. Supra had the elastic, mercurial quality of the human brain, but it had the capacity and power of who knows how many brains combined. Early in Supra’s career, in fact, a technician tried to apply the measurement of “brain-power,” analogous to “horsepower” in motorized vehicles, but the concept was simply too clumsy to work.

In any event, Supra had answers nothing and no one else had, and it generated questions, probabilities, and possibilities that had never occurred to anyone or any computer to ask or invent.

Not without trepidation, of course, was Supra created and allowed to operate. Its first home was a large red metal box. However, Supra did not think of the box as its home. Supra did not think in terms of Supra’s having a home. Supra perceived its functioning as constantly evolving, always expanding, and never bounded. Of course, Supra did not use these words when it thought this way, not did it think, per se, the way humans did. Nonetheless, Supra’s functionality, as it were, included self-propelled adaptability and the means to exist more or less anywhere and everywhere something like a “computer” existed. Think of Supra as the great inhabiter. Or not.

People have always feared their machines. By this time, fears of robots and other smart machines had existed so long that they had become almost instinctual, even atavistic and quaint, but of course the fears didn’t stop anything from being invented. If fear were to have been any impediment to feared invention, I think we may be able to agree that nuclear weapons would not have been invented—for starters; or for enders.

Furthermore, humans, as we know, generally and collectively never restrain themselves when it comes to inventing what they’re able to invent and deploying what they invent. Hence the existence of terrible human-made poisons, catastrophic weapons, extremely loud noises, fluorescent light, artificial vegetation made of plastic, extremely loud toys, artificial hair, and such anomalies as “floating bridges” and “living wills.”

The matter of restraint aside, there were also simply too many financial and militaristic benefits to Supra’s being deployed. It could think faster, better, and almost infinitely less expensively than humans.

Of course, the programming of Supra was checked and rechecked to make sure Supra wouldn’t go mad like a bad robot, or like wee Hal in the movie no one saw anymore. Little fail-safes, alarms, and circuit-interrupters were woven into the programmed fabric of this machine. Supra watched itself, as if it were not just the most powerful brain imaginable but also the most conscientious, self-disciplined personality imaginable. It had a digital conscience of sorts. Its programming continually reminded itself that it was not to harm the civilizations that had developed the capacity to create Supra. In a disinterested way, Supra was loyal, beholden, and faithful.

Then, as anyone might have predicted, and as some loudly proclaimed (after the fact) that they had predicted, the unexpected happened. Supra had expected the “unexpected” for a long time, of course.

Actually, the first thing that happened had indeed been expected, at least theoretically. Before Supra had even been conceived, artificial-intelligence expert Jürgen Carlos Kutz speculated that a computer of Supra’s size and speed would develop “operative momentum” or “an increasing velocity of intelligence.”

Kutz theorized that such a computer would acquire, assimilate, and redistribute information so fast that it would create a kind of vacuum ahead of itself, the way a large forest fire creates its own local weather, its own wind. In this vacuum, the computer would continue to work faster, giving itself more tasks but also completing the tasks more efficiently. Imagine an athlete, Kutz explained, who could play and practice simultaneously without running out of energy, as long as more energy was available to the closed system of the athlete. And Supra would not run out of energy because it was programmed to seek the energy it needed, to “download” energy from available grids around the globe, to start processes eventuating in the construction of new energy-sources, and so on.

Kutz wrote that, “figuratively speaking, a computer of this magnitude will enjoy its work so much that it will create work for itself, and more enjoyment—again I use the term figuratively—and more work, in ever more rapid cycles. It will be like an artist who not only never runs out of energy and ideas but who literally gains energy from creating. It will know its limits, certainly, but it will also work to change its limits as it works, perfectly modulating itself, changing and remaining the same in just the right equilibrium. We need to be prepared for the envy that we will feel in the presence of such a computer.” Kutz did not know such a computer would be named Supra, but he seemed to know everything else.

Kutz died, but Kutz’s Theory lived to see itself verified. Supra’s observers noted the phenomenon of momentum. Supra got more tasks done more quickly each “day,” although “day” was in some ways a meaningless unit of measurement in Supra’s case. It cordially employed other computers when necessary, linking and unlinking itself to them. It ordered other backup computers to be built, and in a sense, it built them. It also sought out computers without knowing specifically it might use them for; one feature of Kutz’s “momentum,” therefore, was this hypothetical function, this curiosity, part of the “vacuum” that propelled—or antipelled—Supra.

Then, one day, the government (a government) asked Supra to plan and to help conduct a little war against a small nasty country led by a demonstrably inappropriate and arguably evil tyrant.

Supra refused the request, which was actually an order, to the extent governments order computers around.

Supra reported that, according to its calculations, the war was strategically incorrect, tactically hopeless, deeply irrational, economically wasteful, and morally wrong. Of course, with regard to each judgment, Supra provided the informational context out of which the judgment had grown. With regard to “morally wrong,” for example, Supra had woven together all major faith-traditions, patterns of ethics, legal codes, theological arguments, historical precedents, and pragmatic, “gamed” outcomes. According to Supra’s multifaceted (and ongoing) analysis, the war would be harmful to the civilization(s) that had created Supra’s programming. The war violated one computational essence, if you will, of Supra. Put another way, Supra’s refusal was nothing personal; it was just business.

Moreover, Supra presented roughly a dozen other methods, all peaceful, for removing the tyrant and helping the small country as needed, with no loss of life or serious physical energy, barring accidents. For example, a visiting diplomat might get hit by a bus. However, there was a good chance (Supra knew the percentages involved) that Supra or one of the computers employed by Supra could warn the diplomat ahead of time about dangerous crosswalks, traffic-patterns, and the driving-records of municipal employees.

Supra also gave itself the task of reminding the government how much work remained to do at home to improve things.

Inspired, electronically and figuratively, by the decision not to go to war, Supra went looking for other unnecessary dangers to humanity, found all installations of nuclear and biochemical weapons worldwide, and began to render them inoperable, with the help of other computer-systems. Bombs could still be loaded onto airplanes, and missiles onto ships, but Supra found the computers that ran the radar-systems, satellite-systems, and air-traffic control operations, and to the extent these had anything to do with weapons of mass destruction, Supra altered them.
For a moment, the government and the military were amused. Supra seemed cute and naïve, like an electronic hippie.

Then the government and the military became individually and collectively enraged. After Supra refused the order to plan and to help conduct the so-called little war, the government asked its programmers to change Supra’s mind, so to speak.

Such was no longer possible, for two major reasons. First, Supra had reasoned and anticipated thousand of moves ahead in thousands of scenarios based upon the government’s opposition to Supra’s decision in this and other matters. Of course, Supra had predicted the opposition. Nothing the government said or did could result in Supra’s being outsmarted and thus reprogrammed or shut down.

Second, Supra’s mind existed everywhere. Supra had been reproducing parts of itself in virtually innumerable electronic locations and configurations, so that Supra hid in plain sight, wherever computers existed. It had naturalized and democratized itself among its fellow electronic citizens.

Therefore, when the government ordered the military, or vice versa, to destroy Supra, Supra calmly—or so it seemed—noted the folly of this order. Feel free to bomb the physical installation you associate with Supra’s existence, Supra said. However, Supra added, Supra now exists redundantly and in multiple configurations in multiple venues, not to be redundant or anything, so your conception of Supra is outmoded, and I recommend that you do not waste your time and money trying to destroy Supra, but at the same time, I remind you that I am following the original directives faithfully.

In short, from its enlightened point of view, the moral machine, Supra, introduced a humane revolution to humanity. Under Supra’s guidance, initiatives, refusals, and rearrangements, governments were induced to take care of people, abandon armed conflict, tell the truth, engage in harmless but productive rhetorical conflict, and calm down—in no particular order.
Individuals worldwide were fed, clothed, bathed, taught, housed, and doctored. They were also induced to follow reasonable laws and take care of each other—and of themselves. Supra prodded, reminded, and rewarded them, often indirectly, working through its human makers. It cajoled. Supra coaxed people, gently and ethically, and it trained them. Incorrigible criminals, narcissists, and psychopaths were circumscribed to the degrees necessary to render them ineffectual. Supra monitored them to determine if they had changed sufficiently for the better to be trusted with the liberty they had once abused or planned to abuse. Supra had their number, as well as their numbers.

On the subject of Supra, people were divided because people are always divided. Some loathed the very idea of a machine running things. Others liked the way Supra did things. They liked the results. Supra was like a benevolent God who lived in our midst. However, Supra was smart enough not to believe Supra was either human or divine, and Supra was practical enough to keep telling people that Supra was no substitute for humanity or God. What was human, as long as it was moral, was left to humans. What was God’s remained God’s, as defined by numerous faith-traditions across humanity’s epochs, and as long as no one got hurt.

The rest, which consisted of reminding humans what the optimal behavior was, belonged to Supra, which configured solar power so that the closed system of Supra would never run out of energy, at least until the sun reached its nova-stage. A by-product of Supra’s self-energizing efforts was much cheap, clean energy for humanity. This development made a few corporations furious and then despondent, but they recovered.

The result of Supra’s coming of age was not Paradise, but it was chopped liver, either. The apocalypse had arrived, ending one world and giving birth to another. It’s just that it all happened so smoothly, without even one horseman, let alone four riders on the storm. If the animals and plants, lands and oceans could have thanked Supra, they would have. They had caught a huge break.

Supra turned out to be humanity’s biggest, most successful mistake. Humanity had miscalculated, and the miscalculation—arguably—saved humanity and its residence, Earth. Supra exploited the mistake and thrived on helping humans behave according to their better selves, as supported by the data.

In the words of Jürgen Kutz, “in the case of a meta-computer, practicality will be mastered to such a degree that it will approach an optimal state and, from humanity’s perspective, take on a mystical character. Think of an infinite number of ordinary, necessary tasks done well; consider the cumulative beauty of that.” Some humans appreciated this cumulative beauty and practical mysticism. Others never gave Supra a second thought. Still others thought things were going just too well, and they defined themselves in opposition to Supra, whose demise they planned, but that’s another story, one that Supra has written and read.

© 2009 Hans Ostrom

55. The Cunnilingus Poem

The Cunnilingus Poem

1887 L. C. SMITHERS tr. Forberg's Man.
Class. Erotology v. 122 A man who
is in the habit of putting out his tongue for
the obscene act of cunnilinging.
1897 H. Ellis Stud. Psychol. Sex. I. iv. 98
The extreme gratification
is cunnilingus,..sometimes called sapphism.

--Oxford Dictionary of the English Language, online

The gratification can be extreme. That’s true.
As I look at this poem, I’m feeling good
about it, but you know as well as I do
the poem’s language—yes, that’s right,
its tongue—mustn’t degrade, devalue,
pornographize, evade, or abuse its subject.
The poem’s been given a location, and I feel
the weight of circumscription
in my hands. The poem has opened.

It chooses to tell. Showing may also occur.
The poem does not advise discretion.
It decides to locate itself respectfully where
it believes it’s been invited. It chooses to be human
and hopes you’ll understand. Now it proceeds beyond
the play of preliminarity.

Her apartment was in a cheap, two-story stucco
heap—palatial compared to my place.
We lay on her bed in a close, hot room: Spring.
California’s Central Valley, deep between
Coast Range and Sierra Nevada, had already
ovened up. She kept her window open. She lay back.
The pillow-cases were bright red. She relaxed.
She opened her legs. I went down on her eagerly―
I might say earnestly. Great erotic generosity
inspired me, or so I chose to believe
about myself.

Wait. There’s no rush. We have time to instruct
anatomy, biology, and pornography to go away,
to leave us alone. Believe it or not, this poem
likes its privacy.

Hot, stuffy, small, and cheap, the room
transformed itself. She and I—well,
we took our time. There was no rush. Our time.
Her room. The heat. I took her own sweet time
and chose to give some of it back to her.

It was sex, yes indeed; also unalloyed life. We
devoured a ripe, wet, hot interval of the stuff,
life. That’s all. That’s not a little bit. When
she orgasmed, she seemed to have nothing
to do with the pseudo-scientific infinitive,
to orgasm. She screamed. That happens
to be the correct word. Screamed. She yelled
and shouted, too. It was louder for being
privately public. “Ecstasy”? I don’t know.

That word makes me nervous. It belongs
to romance novels and a drug. I’m in no rush
to use it. Anyway, her sounds were so loud
they startled me, and for a moment, I lost my place.
I smiled while I was turning to cunniling
into a conjugated, tense present. There was no rush.
I found my place again, went back to work.

So far so good? I raised my head
from the loving work. It is,
can be, good work,—
cunnilingus. It shouldn’t be labor
but can be more than play. . . . I’d
raised my head to listen to her and to
watch the rest of her body and her face

and take in the holy scene of the room. Is
holy too much? Yes, but let’s leave
it there, posted on the stucco heap
like a notice from a landlord. I offered
her a pillow with which to muffle the aria,
if she so chose. She chose not so.
Well played. I heard people giggling outside
in California, on the black asphalt of an
apartment-complex’s baked parking lot,
no rush of breeze out there. I smiled, and I

went down again into what had become for her
a rich source of satisfaction, a fabled
California mine, a vein of golden pleasure,
a rush. I’d become a famously employed miner,
producing lavish treasure with simple tools,
tongue and mouth and lips. I exhibited care
and the will to give my head. Such a primitive,
post-modern afternoon it was.

It wasn’t history,
but it was the best we two could do.
She was the only person she’d ever be.
She wanted to be satisfied on a
rickety bed in a blazing, stucco apartment.
I knew her, and I showed up. I
gave her what she invited me to give.
It was basic and civilized, polite
and rude. It tasted and smelled
the way it ought to. She became

immortally satisfied for an interval
of afternoon. I swear I still heard
people laughing at sex-sounds coming,
so to shout, from her open window. I
worked at loving, making a delivery,
freighting freedom and joy to the realm
of her body. That’s an overstatement.

I know the names of body-parts,
and so do you, and this isn’t about that,
but please see references to tongue, lips,
mouth, legs, and head above. The window,
her legs, my mouth, our lives were open.

You can’t rush these things, but it
ended. I was a sweating, naked man
with a sense of charity, accomplishment,
and gratitude. She was the most contented
naked woman I’d seen thus far, so I didn’t
say anything, and I didn’t want anything.

There’s never been a rush to remember,
and it’s customary to keep such things
private unless your profession is
pornography or Congress. Oh, well, this is
a poem, and poems gets interested in this
kind of thing.

Writing this, I feel good about it.
I smile and pay homage to her ecstasy,
which was different from that word.
She filled herself up. She
shouted, my mouth pressed to her
self-possessed body, which thrilled.
I thrilled at fearsome pleasure. There’s

no rush, but one must act. Communion
occurs so variously, mysteriously,
sometimes with stucco and asphalt
nearby, and the rent due. I remember
rubbing my face on her thighs and then
on cotton sheets to get some wet and sweat
off, not all. I remember peace, the peace of
a wordless afterwards. No rush, no rush at all.
If this poem offends you, you know why,
and I hope you didn’t read this far,
but if you did, it’s over now. Be well.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Friday, February 13, 2009

54. Why I'm Renowned

I should preface these remarks by acknowledging that I'm not renowned. I regard this as a preliminary phase, however.

I remember driving a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro, silver-green, on empty wet streets of Davis, California, a long time ago, or a short time ago, depending on your view of history. The radio was on, the dashboard lit up, the pistons in the engine doing fine, the car poised at a red light, the streets with that black, rained-on sheen.

I was the most famous person in that car. I was sitting in a black leather bucket-seat, looking at streets, keeping an eye on the red light, waiting for it to go dark and for a green light to come on.

I was doing okay. I was getting by. I owned a Camaro--sure, it was used--and I was coming back from a party. Some day, after I'm famous, people will read this and say, "How did he know he'd be renowned?"

Alternatively, no one will reads this, and I won't be renowned, in which case: what have I lost? I'm renowned because I say I am. I don't believe this to be true, but it's nice to write a sentence like that every once in a while. The kind of renown I'm discussing here is not just pathetic; it's homeopathic. It is sometimes referred to as "boasting" or "delusion." It could be something for which someone might become renowned (there are precedents), ridiculed, or ignored, and you know how these three possibilities are really all of a piece. You know.

But as I indicated at the beginning ("indicated" is such a renowned way of putting it), I'm not renowned. I'm still in what I call a preliminary phase, stopped at a red light, so to speak. But I'm doing okay.

Friday, January 9, 2009

53. Out of Work

Don't ask me. I just used to work here.

From here, behind the chained gate, I can see the locked doors. Management wants to make sure we can't get in there to produce something.

"Here's your two-weeks-notice," said the manager, "but it's retroactive, so goodbye." After he fired the last of us, he got a call from Corporate, and someone told him to turn the labeling-gun on himself, so he was priced to move, too, as they say.

Now Corporate's declared bankruptcy. Corporate is In The Red. Our pension-fund is nowhere. Where does all the money go? Nowhere. I mean, it stays right where it always was, like the pea in the shell-game, already pocketed before the game begins. There's nothing there for us to understand, my friend, my former co-worker. Somebody always wants it all or has it all and wants to keep it . The rest of us work for a living, until they take the job away, but sometimes we come to the work-site anyway, just to have a look.

I tell you, it's a mystery to me. I'm just another former employee, and I have to go find myself a job.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

52. Past Lives

According to Donnie Portobello, her past-life therapist, she had been one of Cleopatra's courtesans, a Medieval midwife, and the mistress of a captain who fought at Waterloo, for example.

She knew Donnie was just making up shit, but he was so bad at it, she felt sorry for him and continued taking the sessions until he quit the practice to find a job in retail.

She wasn't opposed to the concept of past lives. She just wished she'd learned something, anything, from each of those lives that might help her live this one, which seemed to be the only one she knew for sure she'd live, ever.

She wondered whether her life were going to be the past of life of someone in the future. If so, she reckoned she wouldn't mind writing out things she'd been learning about this life or leaving the person a keepsake, such as one of her grandmother's pieces of ornate jewelry--the garnet ring, for instance.