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

Friday, November 4, 2011

183. Academic Dinner

When he's invited to a formal academic dinner, he's asked (not in so many words) to play the role of guest and the role of performer and the role of audience for the Famous One, who is in town for one night to make what seems to some a lot of cash.

At the dinner, more than one person out of, say, 15, will fawn. More than once he's noticed the fawning and felt badly. He feels like a grubby hick and double-checks to insure his elbow is not on the table.  He keeps an unobtrusive eye on the Famous One.

Out of nervousness, he will inhale the food, which always has too much sauce on it. Usually he cracks one good joke, just sophisticated enough, and he asks one question the Famous One likes answering.  He earns his keep.

Outside, finally, he gulps cool air in darkness, loosens the noose of his red tie, gets the blazer off. He disappears from the group. He drives away like a burglar who got nothing but escaped arrest.

At home, more often than not he gets out of the car and stands behind a tree in the dark. There he opens his trousers and pisses.  As he pisses, he breathes easy.  He stares into rain or fog, or up at stars. He knows he will never master the art of being an academic.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

182. The Mapes Hotel

And I recall the Mapes Hotel, Reno, first hotel in which I ever stayed, 9 years old? --The weird harmless hell of casino bells, fizzing lights, jangling coin-vomit, tobacco smoke, red carpet, red everything. That smell, how I loved it: notes of whiskey, sweat, grease, old carpet, trapped air. And Elevator: first one I'd ever ridden on; it was simple, absolute magic:

step in, be in (solemnity of those moments & engine whirring), then be elsewhere suddenly. Because of the Mapes Hotel, I remain enchanted by elevators. And by Keno women.

Then there was, there is, the Idea of a Hotel Room: bad art that looked so good back then; massive lamps; beds better than what we had at home but still sad like abandoned cars. Garish drapes as heavy as lead. Stationery, envelopes, post-cards, pens!

...And the hotel detective, whom I saw just once, bulging arms in a shiny suit, hair slicked back, a red mole on his neck, a shiny forehead, and on his face what I would learn later to call a smart-ass smirk.  He was rushing to the elevator--trouble somewhere in the Mapes Hotel. But he saw us and let us get in.  He took the stairs. Down, down.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

181. Woman In An Elevator

She entered a stainless steel elevator, ghostly florescent light behind the ceiling's translucent plastic. In the elevator was an empty chair, black fabric, reddish-stained wooden arms, wee black wheels. As the elevator rose, the woman looked at the chair and thought many things. Imagine, please, selections from the variety of what she thought then in the steel elevator, a large box. Out of the elevator after it moved, she ceased thinking about the empty chair inside it.  Scenes of our lives change quickly, constantly. The woman in the elevator thought this, thought we have no control, but knew then she would move through her day as if she and we did have control because that is how we must move most of the time. Up and down went the chair in the elevator.

Friday, September 23, 2011

180. Boulder Man

Nothing but a boulder-man now, that's me. I've become a rock in the road I used to travel. Pry and roll me, young vagabonds--tip me over the side. I'll smash some brush or hit a tree--hell, maybe bang into the red-rusted chassis of a '54 Ford, all covered over with weeds.  And you if young may think, Wow, cool--that sound!

It's just me, boulder-man, me and gravity--one dance before last call, tumble-tumble: one dance.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

179. Is, Was, Lew Welch, Weldon Kees

You live in Is but think in Was. To Be has become something of a joke, a narrow corridor with doors at the end opening on to a bone-yard.

Was isn't, but you may pretend it is. What is consciousness besides memory?

Details fatigue: a gray sparrow on white gravel in what was East Berlin; a sauna full of nude, genial people in Uppsala; a red bloody torn lip in Sacramento; a coiled rattlesnake beneath honey-smelling brush, Sierra Nevada.

To live in Is is to complete tasks and then wait. Boredom and fear compose ennui, a cold French stew.

Politics numbs because it's corrupt, often evil, but also deadly boring. Deadly.

You wonder where Lew Welch's remains ended up, the .30-.30 rifle next  to them in some Sierra Nevada ravine, not far from the South Fork of the Yuba River.  Was he wearing Levi's with red thread? Lew's move is not a move you want to imitate, but it was a move. Was.  Somebody will stumble on a bone or two.Will.

Not so with Weldon Kees, the car left on the red Golden Gate Bridge, the gray current below, so terribly efficient--like life itself. Play us some going-home music, Mr. Kees. A great chord on a golden piano.

Friday, August 26, 2011

178. Red in Love

There's something red in love, in making love, in sex. "Making love." (?) That sounds like manufacturing.

But back to something red in love--there is. It could be vision or toe, tongue or nipple, or down there in crucial climes, our intemperate zones.

It could be a dream of a red pillow as vast as a mansion.  It could be a sulfurous match-tip struck, afire, and introduced to tabak or to Santa Maria Juana.

It could be a question lined with red velvet. "Do you want to dance?"  "Do you want me to . . .?"  "Do you want to go swimming?--yes, yes, of course, nude."

It could be anything red in love.  It could be anything--red in love. It could. Could be. Red. Red in love.

177. People and Things

People and things, child. People with things. People with people and things. A red thing: dot.

People-made things. Tools, child. Things not people-made: a cardinal in Kansas.

A red thing: tip of a lit cigarette in dark. Sigh of lungs.

Oh, child: a rug dyed red.

The People of the Things: think of all the things in just one American home. The home's brick chimney, red.

Things people know/don't know/deny/believe/don't want to know. They don't want to know, child.

Dear People,

Well, here we are.



P.S. Red light!

Monday, May 30, 2011

174. Red-Cedar Think

Think red cedar consider aroma mountain geology owned science Descartes God wheat bread ground fire husbandry gather stay goat dog domesticate darkness fear myth anything can kill hope medicine faith.

Cedar consider stare wind touch-red-bark, smell cedar-sap. Memory light/no light, life/no life. Red resin. Consider cedar. Think cedar your life memory green memory red thick bark. Yellow pollen wheat faith science knows nothing sure is ground fear darkness and cold death faith cedar rooted in ground in soil in rock. Water.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

171. Some Fable-Days

For ten minutes one afternoon, I became
an elephant. I walked heavily away from
where I work, wagging my heavy head.
Cackling minions threw pebbles at my
sad ass.  On another day, I became a cat:

Somebody was talking at me in front
of a group, apparently scoring clever points.
But I'd lost the topic, and word-like noises
from her mouth might as well have been
red jello for all the sense they made to me.
So I stared. I was Cat--there and not there,
dozing in the pride of my mind, not hungry
and therefore supremely disinterested.

I've spent many days as a badger, digging,
fretting, rooting around, growling to myself,
making a lovely mess of my underground
burrow, getting lots of badger-writing done.
Some fable-days, I tell you, are often
just what a human being needs--to stay human.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Sunday, April 24, 2011

170. Dead White Weight

Rebecca worked at the institution. It was built chiefly of red bricks. On some days, the institution was a bank, on others a software company, on still others a college, and so on.  This variation of professional pursuits made the institution an exciting place to work, like a middle-class carousel.

When Rebecca arrived each morning, she discovered what her job was that day--loan-officer, professor of history, project-manager, and so on.  Changing from one job to another was easy for her.  The jobs--or rather, positions--all involved talking, projecting some mild authority, and more or less acting the part.

The more difficult aspect of the institution for Rebecca was that it was white--80% to 90% of the employees were white, and the ethos of the place was white. So was Rebecca; however, she thought more people from different ethnic backgrounds should work there, provided they wished to do so.  She thought greater diversity would improve the institution, rescue it from the bubble of the past in which it seemed to exist, and make it more just.

But Rebecca had tried to change the institution in this regard for so long that she was realizing it wasn't going to change. It liked to promote itself as interested in persons not white; it hired a few a few of these and it brought visitors who were Black, Asian American, Indian, and Latino.  But in all the important, self-conscious, structural, and reflexive ways, the institution remained white.

--Because it liked itself that way: Ockham's Razor. It was comfortable being white, and being white, it valued the comfort. Everybody was fluent in whiteness, especially those who weren't white, for their jobs--positions--and safety depended upon such fluency.

Rebecca's co-workers like to congratulate themselves on being white using oblique methods. But in these instances, the translation of the gesture, speech, proposal, or attitude was apparent.  "Hi, Bob--you and I are white--can you dig that?"  "Jenny, I like what you said yesterday in the meeting--white on!"

Occasionally Rebecca's efforts to change the situation were complimented. Otherwise they were easily finessed or opposed. Rebecca was discouraged now.  She didn't think she had the right to give up trying to change the institution, but at the same time, trying meant constantly attempting to lift a dead white weight, an enormous, heavy blob.

Rebecca was experiencing fatique.  The fatigue of an activist and ally.  Institutions remain forever young and often forever white, and all they have to do to thwart anyone proposing real change is to smile and not change. Eventually the one wanting change will wear down.

However, Rebecca also didn't want to make the white activist's and ally's mitake of complaining to one or more of her friends and colleagues who weren't white, for, in fact, innumerable people had seen the trouble she'd seen, and much worse, obviously.

She pressed on, doggedly, making proposals, raising issues in meetings while people rolled their eyes.

Then one day she came to work, and she was astonished to find that the institution had painted all the red bricks white. The entire facility glowed in sunlight now. That wasn't the only surprise. Signs, memos, mission-statements, and websites proclaimed, "We are no longer a multi-professional institution. We are no the Institute for the Study of People (Who Are White)."

In more detailed documents, Rebecca learned that "in this post-racial society, it's important to study people (who are white)."

"But," said Rebecca to a colleague, "it's not post-racial--we're 80% to 90% per cent white here."

"That kind of talk is so yesterday," the colleague said. "We're 100% people!  Black and White are old news. We have no white people here. We have people!"

"That's a remarkably white thing to say," Rebecca said quietly.

"Get on board or say goodbye," said the colleague.

On her last day of work at the institution, Rebecca stripped naked in a quadrangle between white buildings and quickly painted herself a medium brown.  Getting her back grown was tough, but she'd brought a long-handled paint-brush.

People (who were white) from Security came.  Three were white. They waited while the municipal police arrived. Rebecca was given a long coat to cover herself and arrested for public indecency. She said, "Medium brown is not an indecent color."

Rebecca is sad ow because she's unemployed, although she has prospects.  She misses talking to her colleagues, especially the ones who used to be not-white, back in the racial era.  She imagines telling these colleagues, "White people are amazing. They never stop."  And she hears the knowing laughter of her colleagues.

She doesn't miss trying to lift the dead white weight of the institution.  Sometimes she puts on a hat and sunglasses and visits the institution after business hours.  She walks up to one of the red-brick walls now painted white, and she pushes, hard. The white wall doesn't move.  She hums, "Joshua fit the battle of . . . ."
A Black person comes by, Linda, whom Rebecca knows well.  Linda says, "Hi, Rebecca."

"How did you know it was me?" asked Rebecca.

"Because you're pushing on a white wall."


"Come," says Linda, "walk with me for a while."

Monday, April 18, 2011

169. Empty Gift-Box To Be Filled By You

I know a man who ran a pickle-factory for decades. He writes poetry now, and he publishes the poems of others.

I know a woman who was invited to play bass in B.B. King's band. She became a pastor instead.

I know a man who played drums for a famous rock-band in the 1970s.  He's an electrician.

There's this other woman I know--she worked as a spy. She teaches kindergarten.

And so on.  You know people like this, too.

When people change what they do, do they change who they are?

This question is like an empty gift-box--let's wrap it in red paper. The gift-box is for you. Here you go! Now you'll put the answer to the question inside, and to help fill up the box, you may of course elaborate on the yes, the no, the maybe, and/or the I-don't-know.

It's terribly impolite of me to give you--virtually, at that--an empty gift-box, and for that, I apologize. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

168. Ponca City, Oklahoma

Car broke down. It's sitting up high in the bay of a mechanic's shop. Mechanic's an inked biker.  He's probably done time because he has that kiln-dried look. His wife runs the office. She's pretty and pretty smart and out of place: a woman who falls in love with men who become projects.

Of course the heat's thick. It's Oklahoma, and it's summer. The office is an asylum of invoices touched by rusty dust. You want the mechanic to know enough to be able to let you get  back on I-35 and take it on in to OKC for some cold beer and glassy-eyed gazing at a baseball game on somebody's big TV--tornado-warnings cutting in at intervals.

You want her to stop talking, the mechanic's wife.  But she needs to let you know she went to college, too, and you feel sorry for her. In the bay, the mechanic lights a cigarette with a blow-torch and stares at you.

Friday, April 8, 2011

167. The Czar of my Life

I applied to be an emperor but never heard back.

At work, I pretend having no power is an honor. I wear having no power like an invisible red sash.

I'm so common and overlooked, beige walls want to adopt me.

In my restful moments, I'm the czar of my life. I run the show. I say what goes, usually right before sleep deposes me in an easy coup d'etat.

166. Robots and Real People


Whenever a real person shows up, the robots panic.

They seek and execute ways to drive the real person away. You can tell they're robots not humans by the way they gather closely, mean and jealous motors inside purring, red fearful lights inside them coming on. The robots entertain each other by agreeing with what each other says, by flattering each other mechanically and speaking in the approved phrases.

If you are a real person who has found employment among the robots, you probably will want to get out of there fast.  Apply for other jobs. Don't fight it. Inside the robots, red lights are coming on. Don't fight it. The robots in a robot work-place win. 

165. Complete Works of Shakespeare

I bought another Complete Works of Shakespeare.  I know I should have given the money to a food-bank instead. I'm going to make a better choice next time.

The book has a hard red cloth cover. The book feels great to hold, if you like to hold books.

Bill's words hum frenetically in there like too many bees in too small a bee-box.

Old Bill, he did like to go on a bit.  He liked his characters to go on and on, rolling across iambic plains, talking, talking. And all of that is in this big red-covered book, in an age when books in this form are moving toward extinction.

It is all in this book--the kings, queens, cross-dressers, murderers, coincidences, speechifying, metaphors, meditations, love, hate, bigotry, sex, profanity, and wit.  And wit.

And there's a thin red-ribbon bookmark. This is one of those books that will go from hands to hands slowly over decades after I am gone. It will be a big red book on a leisurely journey, opening itself to anyone interested in a glance--Hamlet and Juliet read into walking on stage in print as many times as anyone wants.

It is a heavy, friendly book, a bit of a docile beast--Caliban, Falstaff, the nurse in Romeo and Juliet.

It is a book that would never contemplate suicide or fratricide or parricide.  It would never pick up a sword, or murder a rival, even as it agrees to contain such things--bees in a box, the words, Bill's words, humming, humming, the big red-covered Complete Works of Shakespeare, money for which, I know, should have gone to the hungry.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

164. Robins and the Cause of Justice

Every year I forget how yellow the robins' beaks are until the robins reappear in March.  And of course robins' breasts aren't red. They are orange. 

For decades, I've been watching robins turn their heads to detect red worms under grass, and I still don't know if they are turning their heads to look or to listen or both.  It's almost like I don't want to know the answer to the question.

Every year the bright yellow of the beaks is like the latest worm: actual and fresh.

How does such a detail advance the cause of justice on Earth?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

163. Hey, Chief, Relax

Hey, you have red eyes from over-work, not enough sleep, and who knows what else. Hey, chief, relax: we're all just along for the ride. Nobody drives. (It's okay to think you do, especially when you're young, but you're not young.) I mean, come on: the physical forces of the universe alone withdraw control from you, from all. Add in luck, the Leviathan that is humanity, and the helplessness of babies, and we're all just along for the ride.

What you may be able to decide, chief, is how low-down, mean, and nasty you're going to be (or not), and if you do go bad, how many lies you're going to tell to cover it up, and how much damage you think you really need to do just to be you.

Are you going to be a bad person or a good person, chief? (No, now don't quibble about definitions with me. Let's just agree we've both read philosophy.) Whether to be a bad person or a good one--that's a little piece of human business you can decide.  It's not much, chief, but it's something.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

162. Big Man At the Bus-Stop

There was a big man
at the bus-stop today.
He had thick wild hair
and a broken leg,
aluminum crutches
and a wadded, wet
bus-schedule. He

wore cut-off jeans
in the rain, the temperature
below 40 Fahrenheit, and
a red-and-black NASCAR
jacket. His hands, thick
paws, were grimy, black
under the fingernails.

He had to get somewhere
in a hurry, he told me,
told anyone, everyone
in a loud voice. He
didn't say why he had
to get there soon. His
long hair was so oily
and heavy, the watery
wind couldn't push it

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Monday, February 28, 2011

161. Honey-Toned Chair

A honey-toned
rocking chair
next to a hearth
is composed of
red oak, which
used to be a tree,
which used to rock
in warm winds.

The tree's great-
grandparents were
acorns, which sat
together, attached
to a branch, in
presence of leaves
flushed yellow-red-orange
in late October,

when the honey's
been harvested and
the rocking chair's
seasons of seeming
a good idea begin.
Again, agaiN.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

160. Birth Story

My parents, having sex, mixed the ingredients that would eventuate in me. Forgive, Lord, for they knew not what they did.  I know because my mother told me so. I had not been "planned."

I don't like to (and in fact don't) picture them having sex, but one must face the fact that one began to begin when a wad of semen embraced an egg.

Dr. Padgett pulled me from my mother, who lay etherized upon a table, into the rest of the world. And it was done--or begun: accident, miracle, inevitability, propagation, something (something else), nothing in the scheme of things.

My father was two canyons away in the Sierra Nevada, having wearied of my delayed arrival.  My gender allowed him to win a bet from a woman who asserted "he" couldn't have three sons in a row.  He was drinking her whiskey with her husband when the winning news arrived by phone (a party-line, common in the 50s).  I can see him in a red-and-black checked flannel shirt, the massive Swedish laugh--it's after midnight. The color of the scene over-cooked, as in those early Kodak color-shots, the reds and browns so deep.

I see my mother lying in bed, exhausted, wondering, wondering how she will handle it all now with a third son, and with her husband, an implacable mountain man.

The hammer-toe was there from the beginning, the blue eyes and dark hair with multiple cowlicks, and also no doubt the in-born reticent watchfulness: something told me in a sub-conscious secret baby-language to keep an eye on this whatever-it-is--this excess of things, light, motion, people, shadow, change.  Way too much excitement for anybody's good.  I remain suspicious of the whole arrangement.

On the advice of a Swedish great-aunt to whom I would deliver cream weekly five years later, they named me Hans, pronounced hands, Ansgar (beleaguered saint sent to Christianize the Vikings) Ostrom, which used to be Åström.

Birthed and named.  I happened, as did you: Well done.

Friday, February 4, 2011

158. I Give You . . .

Poets, even famous ones, write nonsense like "I give you the sun."  I guess it's their job (our job--okay I'm a poet, too) in a way to write crap like that.

Now I can't even give you these words unless you take them like a moist red pamphlet handed out by a blood-shot-eyed youth on dirty corner of an urbane street.

Poets can't help themselves so they try to help others by means of words, which people need less than cash, food, time, medicine, and rest.

So here it is: I give you your 8th birthday-celebration, when the wild turkey ran through the yard with that flapping red thing under its chin, when your uncle tried to tackle it, cracking his collar bone, and you received a crucial gift that you still keep in a drawer no matter where you move. 

Yes, yes, this didn't happen to you, but now it did, or something like it did, and so I give that to you even though you already have it.  Happy Birthday.

Monday, January 31, 2011

157. Will There Be Anything Else?

"May I get you anything else?" said the waiter to Hiram.

"Yes," said Hiram. "A Turkish carpet, large, woven from silk and cotton; a woman wearing nothing but red copper bracelets; a private room; and then, if you will, send my thanks to God."

"More water, sir?" replied the waiter.

Monday, January 17, 2011

155. The Sword Thing

I never wanted to live by the sword. I mean, some swords are nice to look at, and up until about age 6, you can have pretty good sword-fights with sticks.

But swords are heavy, awkward, and up to no good.

I certainly don't want to die by the sword, hacked to bits and splats of blood and waves of pain. Who wants to die by the sword?

I think swords now should be reserved mostly for Olympic fencing, museums, and locked display-cases.  I think it's best if people live and die by other means.

If someone challenges me to a duel, I might agree to play along, but not with pistols, not at dawn, and definitely not with swords. Ketchup-bottles--at three feet, and at around, say, 4:30 p.m.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

154. May

May may mean you've come to
the end of a durable winter.
May encourages vines, stirs
hope in the vintner.

In May you might soon see
red buds and blossoms
but also mourn in sunlight
the heavy loss of loved ones.

On May Day if you're a laborer
you may march to a red flag,
which might be misinterpreted
as a communistic gag.

May's a good month for those
who feel they don't belong.
It's neither spring nor summer.
Alone, it listens to bird-song

and withdraws from June and April,
both too garrulous by half.
It prefers to cogitate, may-
be to share a mild, ironic laugh.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom