The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Benjamin Ostrowski

Poems from Southeast Asia (farthest yet away from pops)

1. (Hanoi, Vietnam)


Hey pops, good news:

I feel an old expression spun on.
Tired legs chopped up sautéed mixed basil
In pumping heart of Hanoi's French quarter, sided
With sticky rice that arrives in a basket
And gets rolled into clouded bundles
That cannot choose which of my fingers
To cling to (left then right, back to left now).

This is the second floor
And I can feel the worn bits
Catching new light (in the noodled Pho)
(A study of new light being conducted in the street).
These streets buzz and hub bub with horn honking
By the streetside Bahn Mi,
And the restaurant at the meeting of Hang Ga and Hang Non
Is lodged tightly between its neighbors,
All books in the shelf keeping
Dust off each other's covers.

I have trouble
(Iron-clad rubble, iPad tunnel)
Picking which novel.
A freckled newt clung to the ceiling and wall
Of the room
And I could not decide if I could sleep with it there,
So we both gathered dust.

I suppose then that pops the good news
Is spread thinly over sprout fields,
Popped up from water ponds
For a hungry nation.
The gaze of a child tattooed
Devilish garden watching from a flaky pulpit
Is stretched bed sheets, hungry bugs shiny shells crittering,
Catching light of the ricecart brakelights burrowing deep night
Who pedals past.

There is:
A flat-foot woman with smiled wrinkles fixing motorbikes,
My small brain trying to keep to itself.



Steven Ostrowski

Poems from Southeast Connecticut (responses to a journeying son)

1. (Old Lyme)


Bud, I’m helpless over the distance
that gapes like a huge unfurled paper map

but can’t disunite us.

Atoms of you whirlybird in my veins.
They make me think I could lift paternal wings,
fly east east east, make sure you’re safe,
smile, fly back.


I’m driving along the privileged beach roads
of Old Lyme, playing Beatle songs for cheer
& chiming in on the choruses. Mostly
I’m trying to figure out
the math of the trees shaking.
I picture premonition breezes taking off
across steely Atlantic’s summer-heated waters,
stirring depressions into hurricanes.

There’s only one cloud in this sky;
it hovers over the Sound
like a gorgeous bruise.


Many times in my own life
I’ve been damaged into beauty.

I hope the beauty you find in the
so-far east,
when and if it hurts, heals
even better.


Math. It was my worst subject.
The terror of its exactness.
The high probability of being wrong.
Unmerciful nun-eyes cursing at my brain.
I wish they’d taught it closer to the heart:

                            A father missed a son
                            who travelled 10,000 miles.
                            The father drove slowly
                            down Goose Neck Road
                            until the water made him stop.
                            He got out of the car
                            and stretched and squinted
                            through glare and blown sand,
                            his bones murmuring
                            the body’s prayer.
                            At the same moment, the son
                            ate sticky rice in Hanoi, mind sparking
                            one billion times per second.
                            Deep eastern newness bubbled
                            beauty in him every time he blinked.
                            What degree of love translates
                            fathomless waters into pearls of light?



Benjamin Ostrowski

Poems from Southeast Asia (farthest yet away from pops)

2. (Luang Prabang, Laos)


The Mekong licked itself orange,
That friendly foe (though don't drink it,
All riddled little insect).

The daylight is divided and filleted,
And Pops I think you would like here.
Not just because the depth of The Mystery
Is beaded around the wrists of the boyish monks
Who line the dawn like quiet
Stitching, and not just
Because the cheap Beer Lao sits fizzy
At 6.000 kip (cooly 70 cents),
Though certainly because of those.

The Nam Kahn becomes the Mekong
As wrapping across Luang Prabang's peninsula,
Without even a man to weld them all torched
(Without even a man to weld them, seriously).
(Fizz mouth weaving again toward end, fearlessly.)
(Kiss couch seeking the bend is seldom, queerlessly.)

You can take the slow boat upriver to Huay Xai
If you want, but it takes two days and I do not quite
Have the time
But I think when you come
You should take the time, Pops,
All orange with tongue like the robes of the giggling monks.



Steven Ostrowski

Poems from Southeast Connecticut (responses to a journeying son)

2. (New London)


Three New London trash collectors sit nearby on the dock
eating lunch. They wear phosphorescent orange tees.
Fast burgers, cartons of fries. They’ve earned their midday hunger.
I’m sipping a coffee, watching the busy river play.
On the other side, Groton pipes up steamy poison into the blue.

I’ve just been to the doctor, who says I should drink more water.


Your texts come irregularly, as spotty WiFi permits, some with pics
that astonish us. Laos! The lush hills and ornate temples, the placid eyes
of monks, the million carts and muddy boats, the savory beer-- oh,
I admit my envy. And when two textless days go by,
I admit my fear.


Someday, if I’m able, I’ll take that slow boat up to Huay Xai.
I’ve always loved the mystery of rivers, swirly brown waters
amid all manner of curling green seen and unseen forces.

I want to be among the smiling monks. Want to share
with them a holy giggle

until the giggle and we are one.



Benjamin Ostrowski

Poems from Southeast Asia (farthest yet away from pops)

3. (Huay Xai, Laos)


Haven't lost something in a while,
But in a while doesn't matter of course,
Says the orange bubbled
Balloons at half mast on the river pole.
Some sort of silent leak,
Air passing by the still slow Mekong.

Huay Xai is economically fished
And the boxy yellow ATM at the mouth
Of the creaking path down for the river
Gives quarters reverse jukebox.
You, nimble plucked measure,
Dusty layer all don't mind me,
Wild dog in the street.

Phantom-filled rubber gloves
Spin rotation on makeshift meat fans,
Numbly shooing flies from the girthy pork
Slabs, weary man is in the square
TV at the back of the shop.
The flies jump then land
Jump to miss the phantom hands then land.

Feeling quite far from you now, pops,
Maybe mowing lawn, flapping hat
Neck cape, walk the rows in the grass,
Write your jukey poems.
Full of quarters like your steamed glasses,
Brainy podcast earlobes Ginger Ale,
Rain coming roll up the car
Windows, will ya?
The occasional root stuck
In the spinning blades.



Steven Ostrowski

Poems from Southeast Connecticut (responses to a journeying son)

3. (Mystic)


Yeah, I mowed the feisty lawn this afternoon
listening to a book by Thich Nhat Hahn
called On Letting Go.

Everybody lets go of something.
Eventually, everybody lets go of everything.

And yet I think about how I’ll hug you when
you get off the train in New Haven,
changed in the ways long foreign travel
changes the traveler (how strange home becomes).
A hard hug that you’ll feel in the feet.
Then, contented, I’ll let go.

There’d been low clouds like a Buddha-belly
all morning, but in a single instant
the yard became enlightened. Gold paint
on the grass, green fire in the trees.
I decided I’d take a ride up 95 to Mystic
to see the art show on the streets.

I asked your mother if she’d join me.
She breathed a million things to do.
I waited inside her eyes.
She breathed out lotus scent.
“Okay. Let’s go.”



Benjamin Ostrowski

Poems from Southeast Asia (farthest yet away from pops)

4. (Chiang Mai, Thailand)


Written by the crepe-man by Zoe in Yellow:
Bits of blood when the sky's scraped,
Iron giants' hundred pores pour
And the trekked hills of stopped atoms evening
Relief from frantic buzz-on but: poor. 

Mixed basil of the thoughts, Pops
(the man had no eye to fill the sockets
In the center of the Sunday Walking Street).
I ordered the tall Chang Beer
And the laughing gas in orange balloons
From the man in long wig earrings
With politeness whispered in his ear
And the mice of the night (boxed-kick)
Stayed atom above zero
Desperately above zero.

The newt is back this night (after crepes)
(quick Yiah played card tricks:
A slighted hand felt a step towards fair)
On the ceiling at reception,
Pops, I am checking in.
I can see the ba-bump in the throat,
Most human in momented light,
Some honest spin on the paused now.



Steven Ostrowski

Poems from Southeast Connecticut (responses to a journeying son)

4. (East Lyme)


Driving home, duskfall.
Making a right gets me there quicker. I turn left.
Some father is hitting grounders to his young son
on the dusty East Lyme Little League infield.
I slow. The ball skips through the boy’s legs, scuttles
into leftfield.

That’s alright. Good try. Grab that ball.
We still got him at home.
Come home with it!

The little body seizes, heaves the baseball
wild, wild
almost straight up into the chalky ghost of moon.

Good throw, buddy! Held him at third!
Saved a run!

I drive on. Oh, I could weep.
Bud, I could weep.




BENJAMIN OSTROWSKI is a current PhD student studying Organizational Behavior at Carnegie Mellon University. He has poems published in The Gyroscope Review, Blue Muse, The Dark River Review, and others. He has two forthcoming chapbooks co-authored with his father, Steven Ostrowski.


STEVEN OSTROWSKI is a poet, fiction writer, painter and songwriter. His work appears widely in literary journals and anthologies, including Razor, The Madison Review, The American Journal of Poetry, Wisconsin Review and Raritan. He is the author of three published chapbooks--two of poems and one of stories. Fourth and fifth chapbooks, poetry collaborations written with his son, Benjamin Ostrowski, will be published in 2017 and 2018. 



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