Tales from Shelter in Place: Mice

Lana Ayers  

Tales from Our Shelter in Place: Mice  

I worry over the squeaking sounds the come from the walls between the kitchen and the laundry room. At nights, our cat Silvia, the former feral one from the hoarder house with fifty-nine cats, stations herself in front of the dishwasher, feet tucked under so that she resembles a roast. And one morning we wake to find a quarter-sized daub of blood on the linoleum. Nearby rests something resembling a four-inch long leather shoelace. My husband tells me it’s a mouse tail and I feel faint. We can’t locate the rest of the mouse and hope it made a quick snack for Silvia.  

I consider myself lucky that I’ve never experienced rodents inside my home before this. Back when I was young and single in New York City I lived among cockroaches like an alien invading their apartments. Despite the diligence of  landlords calling in exterminators, time and time again, to spray deadly poisons, nothing ever truly did them in. Though I wished then it had.  

But here and now in rural Oregon, it feels wrong to interfere with the mice. Their ancestors likely claimed the spot where our house is built long before my husband and I ever arrived. The crawlspace under the house is a place of warmth and dryness away from the constant damp. Who am I to fault the mice for wanting respite?  

The mouse traps my husband ordered arrived weeks ago and remain unopened in boxes on the floor of our mudroom. I have not nagged him to set up the traps. Us killing the mice feels wrong. We are thousands of years past our hunter-gatherer days. Why not just let our cat Silvia follow her instincts as she is closer to her formerly wilder nature?  

Though I can’t put it into words, something about this whole situation nags at me. Maybe a deeper question about the environment and ecosystems and human disruption? Or perhaps, it’s just that this mice issue feels like one of privilege? We humans hold the power of life and death over beings no less worthy of prosperity than ourselves. All species of life are sacred. This was true of those darned cockroaches as well.  

I’m not saying that those squeaks between the walls don’t freak me out a little. They do. They activate some hind brain fear, I suppose. But in this chaotic time in America where racism is finally at the forefront all across the nation, and vital protests are taking place, this is the time for rampant compassion. No doubt the setting right of years of injustice is complicated and will take time. But it must be accomplished beginning now.  

We humans have erected all sorts of us and them boundaries—barriers to empathy—from the small like bugs, to the exceptionally large like entire continents and the peoples who inhabit them. Our little mice dilemma amounts to not much in the scheme of possible problems. There are greater goods I should worry over and find ways to contribute to solutions. And here in my house, surely, my own compassion can extend to the beings between the walls.  

Those traps need to disappear from view so my husband will forget they even exist. His attention span for all things domestic, that I normally curse for being short, can come in handy this time. As summer blooms warmth and dryer days, the mice, too, will take advantage of outdoor beauty. And so will we. Perhaps the mice between the walls will redouble in the fall when the rains return. But as we shelter in place in this beautiful slice of the world, I do my best to focus on and appreciate each day as its own gift of breath and bounty—even if some of that breath and bounty squeaks with joy.   

My lost loved ones are with me ever more now…

In this chaotic time of battling racism, illegal and immoral government actions, and the coronavirus pandemic, we hope to defeat them once and for all with as few lives harmed or lost as possible. And yet within the daily of strife of these, I feel my lost loved ones still with me somehow. The memory of their love helps get me through the darker days. This short piece below is about my dad, lost to me on this side of breath nearly three decades ago.

~ ~ ~

A Man of Few Words, But Good Ones

Lana Ayers

My father was a man of few words. He never started conversations. He left for work weekdays before I woke. But his absence made a deeper silence in the house than the quiet when he was at home. Back at 5:30 each workday night, he liked to change out of his coveralls uniform with lace-up boots, take a quick shower, and put on casual slacks in black or brown, with a plain tee shirt, his hairy toes wiggling out of the front of his beach-thong slippers.

Then he’d read the newspaper before supper, his cigarette sending untranslatable smoke signals up to the ceiling. Mother told my brother and me not to disturb him. He needed to unwind, but he never seemed like a ball of string to me.

At supper, we kids weren’t allowed to speak except to say pass the ketchup or are there more potatoes? But after our meal was finished, and after I swore I’d gotten all my homework done for the next day, my father was fair game.

Parked in his well-worn striped armchair, the black & white television tuned to a Knicks basketball game or a Cassius Clay boxing bout or to Bonanza, full of big hats and horses, my father sighed heavily and rooted for the good guys. C’mon, you can do it! It was then, without my mother or brother around, I asked him one the thousands of questions that floated around in my head day and night. The kind that drove my kindergarten and early grade teachers to tell me shut up and sit quietly—we’ve had enough out of you. But my father didn’t seem to mind.

“Daddy, why is the grass green?” I’d say.

“Because it sets such a nice backdrop for the yellow dandelions.” He mimed picking a flower and placing it behind his ear.

“Daddy, why do birds sing all the time?”

“Because they want to make Dean Martin jealous,” Daddy said, wiggling his eyebrows like Groucho Marx’s.

“Daddy, why do I have to eat peas? They taste like mush.”

“Peas are a secret weapon against sadness,” Daddy said, leaning over to where I sat at his feet to brush my forehead with his calloused hand. Rough as it was, nothing was ever so tender.

“Daddy, what is God?”

Daddy got up and clicked off the television knob. Back in the striped chair, he patted his thighs. I went to him and he pulled me up into his lap with ease, even though I was a chubby thing. I liked being so close to him I could count the hairs growing in each nostril, like dense, secret forests.

“God is the sky,” Daddy said, one arm hugging my back. “When you see the stars at night, that’s god. And in the daytime, the fluffy white clouds, those are god, too.”

“I thought God was like a person, only giant or something,” I said.

“The great thing about God is that each person can see God the way they want to. I look up at the sky and feel peaceful,” Daddy said.

“Even when it’s raining?”

“Even then. Rain makes everything grow. And quenches thirst.”

“Even when the clouds look like elephants or crazy clowns?” I said.

“Especially then,” Daddy said. “God is always up there for me. And for you, too. Like an upside-down ocean of goodness.”

“So why doesn’t god do anything when everything hurts so much?” I said.

“I know that’s hard to understand, Baby” Daddy said. “The universe is good, but some people in it aren’t always so good. You just have to keep believing in the good, that life can be good, even when things hurt.”

“I don’t know if I can do that, Daddy,” I said, hot tears dripping down my face.

He brushed my cheeks. “Well, until you can believe it for yourself, I’ll believe for you. When you look up at the sky, I’ll be a cloud, or fog, or the clearest blue, or the reddest star, radiating my love for you,” Daddy said. “Just remember to look up.”

We Are the Germans, a poem

In Portland, Oregon,  a city much criticized by the president, 
protesters were abducted by Federal officers acting without jurisdiction. 
Here's a link to see read more about this: https://tinyurl.com/y2mu85b2
With these men behaving like Hitler's brown shirts of Nazi Germany, 
the poem I wrote after Trump's inauguration feels even more like prophecy. 
I'm re-posting it here. 
 
WE ARE THE GERMANS
       America January 27, 2017 & beyond
  
 Terror, anger, shame.
 I wonder If this is how
 the German people felt—
 the ones who cobbled shoes,
 the ones who rose early
 to bake bread,
 the ones who rocked
 babies in their arms
 and sang guten Morgen—
  
 I wonder if this is how
 the German people felt
 when they saw
 what they had done,
 chosen a monster
 to lead their country.
  
 Instead of yards full of chickens,
 and pockets full of deutsche marks,
 the German people were treated to
 streets swept clean of their unclean
 neighbors, and courtyards
 full of dust and darkness,
 uniformed men with brutal
 hands to patrol the land with pride.
  
 I wonder if those Germans
 who tended their gardens,
 or who kept books
 for the mom and pop markets,
 or who constructed those fine
 Mercedes Benz limousines
 piece by elegant piece—
  
 I wonder if this is how
 those Germans felt,
 the way Americans do now
 only a few days after our
 new leader has assumed office
 and signed the proclamation
 stating Muslims aren’t welcome
 on our American soil.
  
 Terror, anger, shame.
 I wonder if those Germans
 bit their tongues to blood,
 or worried their knuckles raw.
 Did they feel any sorrow at all,
 or did they simply lay
 their heads on pillows
 and wind the alarm clocks
 for another day?

Threads, a pandemic poem

My emotions have been all over the place in these last couple of weeks. It’s been so difficult to stay optimistic and motivated. I’m trying to focus as much as possible on blessings. Of which there are so many–clean water, fresh food, my pups and kitties, my husband, family, friends, the beauty of the natural world, the beauty of all the arts, that I am still here. Here’s a poem that I hope you’ll find uplifting.

Lana Hechtman Ayers
  
 Threads
  
 Threads hang loose from
 the ties of my too robustly 
 laundered mask.
  
 Any day could be my last.
 This was true even before
 the coronavirus.
  
 But the sky distracts us
 with its palette of blues,
 its permanent drift.
  
 There’s a Buddhist rift
 in autonomy now,
 how probability
  
 shifts destiny as if
 fate was ever 
 more than poetry.
  
 The stars are themselves
 at last, clearer now
 without excess exhaust.
  
 Despite all human losses,
 summer blooms & blooms, 
 fragrances brighter.
  
 My personal regrets grow lighter,
 float off. Only what I can do 
 this moment matters.
  
 Old misgivings scatter 
 like dust motes in a breeze.
 I remember to breathe deeply,
  
 though breath is the way in
 for this unstoppable death,
 it’s also the only way to live.