Three Poems by Robert Ostrom 





I returned                     to a similar mess.
I felled                          all
my peach trees
                                     because everyday 

I feared                        the death
                                     of my wife. Embarrassed
                                     my dancing
on wood floors. 
                                     Who doesn’t wish
                                     he wasn’t? 
When all
I could do 

was drop
                                     in mud and
lick the trail. 
                                     (Men like me
                                     in doorways
                                     are just doors.)

                                     And I miss
                                     what was once
                                     bestowed by
the likes of                   you.     






First a walnut blight then blackguardly

When in a churchyard I wished I had made better choices

Once the lawns of area homeowners

Like foreign lands I was awash on

A shovel to lamb’s ear

A place where the best worker wins

Once my father sugared a machine

Mother polished a milktooth to set it in a ring

Such a pill I was

With salt licks and shearing scissors

She could take every bit of dream you almost had hold of

Once tellurian then a pelt museum

While Jacobs graze in the cemetery

The refrigerator door is cracked and I refuse to open my eyes

This plain life wasn’t the world

I wanted this worry to be kites in a rainstorm but it was

White winter and then green winter an unstable roof

And only once were there ribbons with hair in my fist






There was once a man who was hunting in a great forest. He pursued a beast so eagerly that when evening drew near, he stopped, looked around and saw that he had lost his way. From where we sit we guess he’ll never find it, even though the path lies so close to where he kneels on a stump that if only he were to look back. Before, the man would say everyday, ah, if only I had a child. Now he says, ah, if only I had a dog. Later, he says, if only I had some bread. A shiver brushes his back and he thinks, if only I had a drum. As it grows darker and snow begins to float around like meal moths, the man says, ah, if only I had a ball of yarn with wonderful properties. And when the snow starts to fall like white letters from the names of all the things he ever wanted, the man imagines a stranger touching everything in his home. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone cared this much about you? Once, God took all his apostles and saints to a garden and left heaven unattended. But the man can’t remember the rest of the story. I would tighten the skin and tune my drum so they might hear me, he says. Once, there was a boy who wanted gifts without work. With each tale, the man has the strange sense that he is looking for the right-shaped thing to unlock the way, yet at the same time, he feels that there is a hole and he needs to find the right-shaped thing to stop the coming in. We know what happens. We know about the witch, the step-mother, how she turns kids into swans. We know we are not allowed to talk for six years. A long time ago, there was a poor woman who gave birth to a little son who came into the world wrapped up in a caul like backcountry stuffed into a balloon. Was it predicted that one day he would be lost in that same world, grasping at a bonechain of events, a smokeless candle, dressing gloves in his pocket? Try to think of songs your mother taught you, we whisper into the story. Anything to comfort. Pretend each shiver is a motherly embrace or a lover’s kiss. It’s your choice. Choose an embrace. No, choose a kiss. I can’t tell you anything except that a shorter version of the story goes like this: it started in a trailer park and ended in a lie. Now the flurry is so thick that what the man sees is more like pieces of the world falling on snow. I never hated you more than I do right now, he says. Toward the end, he hears a stick break and though his eyes are icing over he sees a shape approach through the blizzard: the great beast, a red stag. The beast is not a ball of yarn. Its antlers are no kind of map. In the book of the mislaid. In the catalogues of those off course. In the long history of suckers, there is a man and a beast. And you think you can just see everything you believe.