Friday, August 26, 2005

Barbara Ostrander

I have been knocked sideways by the sad news of the passing of my friend poet Barbara Ostrander which occurred at her home in Lexington, Kentucky, peacefully, on the afternoon of Friday, August 12. Barbara was age 49. I along with a number of other internet poets were concerned that we had not heard from her for some time. I had known that her cancer prognosis had worsened at the end of last year, and that the regimens she had been under were not working. I had tried to e-mail Barbara on a number of occasions over the past several months. I finally found an e-mail address for her husband Kent Ostrander this past Tuesday and contacted him. Kent gave me the sad news that Barb had died eleven days earlier.

I had the privilege of knowing Barbara from the fall of 2003 onward after I met her through Merseyside performance poet Jim Bennett's Poetry Kit e-mail list, having first come in contact with Jim around the time of my visit to Merseyside in August 2003 for the Jack the Ripper convention at the Liverpool Britannia Adelphi Hotel. I began to learn what an incredible person she was through the featured poet pages for Barbara on the PK website.

Learning that Barbara was coming to Bethesda outside of Washington, D.C., where I work, in order to come for cancer treatment at the National Institutes of Health, I arranged to meet her. It turned out that we met in the aftermath of the remains of Hurricane Isabel raging through Washington and Maryland on Saturday, September 20, I braved signal outages on Georgetown Pike to get to her hotel... though Barbara, pioneer and world traveller that she was, wanted to know what all the fuss was about. A couple of my poems below refer to the evening.

Follow the link through the title above for a website dedicated to Barbara that has been set up by Charlene Dewbre.


To Barbara

I. Intaglio

A fire inside the stone,
an image engraved in a dark gem.
You're an ICU nurse; on your arm,
you wear a picc, a plastic lizard.

We meet in the lobby of the Sheraton,
my Kentucky woman in black, in dark glasses,
in Bethesda to receive your cancer treatment.

You've climbed Kilimanjaro twice,
shot your own zebra,
whose hide hangs on your wall,
cared for Rwandan war victims.
You tell me how you broke
protocol to whisper to the dying
woman whose family had been herded
from the room, to tell her God loved her.

You, the Kenyan white girl, tell me
about your trip to India and Nepal.

II. India

You bathe the four-year-old boy with scabies
in the city they call "The Armpit of India,"
his head an open sore of green pus,
a battlefield for the microscopic mite.

Scabies everywhere on the orphans:
buttocks, fingers, ears, legs.
The feast of Dasain, everything
closed, even the pharmacy,

so you and Mary Ellen rummage
for cotton bales, an antipyuretic
for their fevers, calamine lotion
for their itching.

You drag the infected mattresses
from the orphanage, set them on fire.
Sparks drift like spirits to the stars.

III. Transfusion

Barbara, I can't stop the tumor growing in your lung
and neither can the new chemo the Feds tried.
I'm grateful that instead of flying home,
you stay to attend my lecture.
They've removed the picc from your arm; you rejoice
at the prospect of a shower, your first since February.

Now, next morning, I slosh through still-dark Baltimore
as you get ready to take your flight back to Kentucky.
As I think about you, I almost miss my turn
at Poe's marble grave to head to Washington,
the line of rear lights ahead,
red corpuscles flowing
into the nation's body politic.

Christopher T. George

-- The preceding poem appears in the Poets Gone Wild anthology just published.

Traveller - For Barbara

You were the voyager, going
where I could not go, passport
stamped with tumors and chemo doses.

You spoke of your fellow patients,
how you shared the rollercoaster
of hope renewed and hope lost.

You and I shared a hurricane's aftermath,
when powercuts blacked out Bethesda,
ate in the Mongolian grill, where

you told me of climbing Kilimanjaro.
But now you journey farther:
footsteps in the snow, solo.

Christopher T. George



The sun bursts from behind clouds piled
high above the National Postal Museum,
and I watch a pigeon strut between
scurrying commuters at Union Station.

I wonder at this God who could
take you from us at so young
an age -- only 49. I know you'd say
it was all meant to be: you went
from your husband's arms
to God's.

Christopher T. George

The ending lines of this poem came from what Barbara's husband Kent wrote to me in his e-mail of August 23 telling me of her passing:

"By Providence, I was privileged to have been home and holding her when she passed into eternity. Though she had weakened considerably in recent months, neither she nor I though that Friday was to be her last day. I had come home early from work to meet with her and a nurse about some other concern when she began a coughing spell. Holding her in my arms I would help her lean forward to cough and back to rest against a stack of pillows. At one point she paused, looked left to the nurse and asked 'Is this it?' The nurse replied 'It might be.' Barb turned back to me - nose to nose, her eyes dilated and she was gone."

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