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. 

Dark Injustice

 Lana Hechtman Ayers

 Dark Injustice
  
 There are black men dangling 
 from the trees of California
 and New York 
 like some new species of bird
 that hangs by its neck
 from the high branches,
 a Corvid perhaps
 given the fact the Jim Crow
 has never ended in earnest.
  
 Look, mama, says a small
 white boy walking past 
 a special tree, that birdy’s
 giving me a dirty look.
 Mama drags him along,
 murmuring more's the pity
 in this city. 
  
 Do we know how life
 imitates death
 in the guise of suicide,
 someone’s vile idea of irony?
  
 Here’s the news of yesteryear:
 Lynching.
 Here’s the news of yesterday:
 Lynching.
  
 Some claim a tree is just a tree
 and the noose is a clever device
 for black men to say farewell.
  
 Hell is paved with trees
 like the streets of America.
  
 More protests do not equal 
 more progress.
 The egress from racism is
 no safe passage.
  
 This is not a cause
 but a call for conscience.
  
 This is not about law
 but morality.
  
 This is not a subject
 for neutrality.
  
 Transforming human 
 into humane 
 is no simple addition of ‘e’.
  
 e = energy in physics equations
  
 Hanging is all about 
 force and gravity,
 about tension and torque.
  
 Lynching is hanging
 with a capital ‘H’
 for hate, 
 with the silent, sinister 
 addition of ‘e’
 as in evil.
 
 Injustice is a white man’s noose,
 from the trees of California 
 to the New York island.
  
 Our voices must chant, lifting
 the fog of dark injustice—
 no lives matter 
 until black lives matter.
  
 In this land made for you and me,
 let justice truly stand
 for the end of racism,
 from the Redwood forest
 to the Gulf stream waters, and beyond. 
   

Disappear This White Woman’s Ink, Burn This Poem

I feel great trepidation posting this poem. 
It is not my intention to shame or accuse anyone
just because they are white.  
This post is about how ashamed I feel.
Most of the time, I am perceived as white, 
and my birth certificate indicates "Caucasian." 
The truth is much more complicated, 
but that’s a discussion for another time. 
The irony is that this is a poem where 
I state that my white privilege means 
it’s time for me to shut up, listen, 
and let black people speak and lead. 
Yet, here I am posting my white woman poem. 
I am trying to be the best ally I can. 
I’ve found some resources to help me with this. 
Here are a few: 
 https://www.greatbigstory.com/guides/how-to-become-a-better-black-lives-matter-ally 
and
 http://www.scn.org/friends/ally.html 
and
 https://reflections.yale.edu/article/future-race/becoming-trustworthy-white-allies 
 Lana Hechtman

 Disappear This White Woman’s Ink,
 Burn This Poem
  
 A white woman’s pen
 means nothing.
  
 Even when she means 
 to write as ally,
 she betrays otherwise,
 saying stupid shit
 about a best friend
 or a maid who helped raise her.
  
 Too bad her ink isn’t white,
 invisible as her skin 
 is to the police.
  
 Let her ink leak,
 sink a pool of black
 onto the page 
 so that it no longer
 reflects her privileged face.
  
 When she stares 
 into the depths of inequality,
 and says she cares, still,
 all she sees is color.
  
 Let the white woman’s thoughts
 be unknown, 
 let her action show
 her true feelings.
  
 If she’s really an ally,
 racism, injustice, 
 civil unrest will force her
 to do her best,
 attend the protests 
 holding signs inked with
 a black person’s words
 instead of her own.
  
 Let her body be 
 one in a crowd,
 where instead of proud,
 she’s ashamed
 of her skin,
 the violence and sin
 it has always represented 
 in America.
  
 Let her return from the rally 
 and burn her diaries,
 her poems, 
 all her writings.
  
 Let her instead
 be led by voices
 of the disempowered,
 with their history
 of malicious slaughter
 so red it’s black.
  
 Let this white woman’s pen
 no longer be a weapon,
 intentional or inadvertent.
  
 Let my pen become a window
 cleared of my well-meaning ink,
 so that I may look though
 and see the truth 
 as it’s always been—
  
 my voice is nothing 
 but more injustice,
 more drops
 in a pool of black blood 
 so dark, so wide,
 so oft renewed,
 it never dries. 

A poem for Louis Armstrong

Lana Hechtman Ayers
  
What a Wonderful World  
             for Louis Armstrong
 
 When Satchmo set down the trumpet
 and let his gravelly voice become the music,
 the earth nearly stopped spinning 
 in awe of such angelic praise.
  
 It was a sweltering summer Sunday afternoon
 in my house, Daddy lying on the couch 
 with the fat weekend paper, sat up 
 and set it aside when the song
  
 filtered into the living room from the radio,
 filling it with fluttering Monarch butterflies,
 lilac blossoms heavy with scent, 
 red hibiscus blooms dripping dew
  
 onto the rust shag rug, suddenly transformed
 to a carpet of soft green grass my toes 
 couldn’t resist & a cool breeze rose up from
 palms trees that shimmied in the corners.
  
 My mother, who possessed no silly bone,
 showed up in a hula skirt & matched 
 the swaying rhythms with her ample hips.
 And soon, my brother joined in,
  
 shaking a box of salt, & robins bobbed 
 heads from their perch on the coffee table, 
 & daddy whistled along, while our dog 
 rolled cartwheels & ice cream sundaes 
  
 floated down from the sky that once was
 a ceiling, now only cloudless blue.
 And when the song ended as songs do,
 the room became a room again.
  
 The breeze vanished, along with the trees
 & birds & grass. The staleness of humid
 air asserted itself again and my mother
 complained about the too-bright sun
  
 & my brother blamed me for something
 I hadn’t done & my father didn’t look up
 from the newspaper, ignoring the fuss.
 Me, I closed my eyes & covered my ears.
  
 I could still hear Satchmo’s voice rising 
 from the middle of my chest, a crooning 
 from inside my heart & his raspy, happy
 praise song has lived there ever since.  

Random Assignment

 Lana Hechtman Ayers
  
 Random Assignment
  
 What in nature could dwarf
 unjust murders 
 by agents of human law?
  
 Not the rain 
 that washes the streets 
 of pollen and petal fall
 spilled blood 
 and the spittle
 of a black man’s dying breath.
  
 Not the sun
 that pretends bright mood
 and warmth penetrating 
 that soul of all who bathe in it—
 full spectrum white light
 composed of rainbow.
  
 Not the breezes
 that blow across continents
 and great waters
 across imaginary divides of greed—
 breezes joining breath to breath
 to breath
 all equal in lightness.
  
 Not the mountains
 that kaleidoscope through
 green, blue, grey, brown, black, 
 golden, pink in changing light—
 each peak 
 all races.
  
 Not the trees
 that bless the air with 
 transformative life—
 trees of every shape, size, description
 drought tolerant
 torrent tolerant
 tolerant.
  
 Not the ground itself
 every shade of brown
 millions of years of heat and upheaval
 cooling and hardening 
 and softening in great rains—
 gouged, relocated, steamrolled, 
 tread upon.
  
 Not the clear not sky
 its firefly stars 
 blinking from vast numbers
 of eons ago
 their code of creation embedded
 in every creature’s DNA
 on planet earth
 every one
 everyone.
  
 And none of it
 nothing of nature
 dwarfs the violation
 the violence
 of one human against another
 rooted in 
 random 
 assignment 
 of pigment. 

The Color of Racism

Lana Hechtman Ayers
  
The Color of Racism
             for Z.S.
  
 Winters, 
 my nephew drives a snowplow
 in a small Colorado town
 as white as the snow 
 he drives into high
 compressed banks.
  
 His skin is the color 
 of hickory bark 
 with the cinnamon glow 
 of youth his brief 
 twenty-three years affords.
  
 He’s shy but quick 
 to laugh, and when he does
 he tilts his chin down,
 looks up at you
 with his umber pupils
 from a doe-eyed angle.
  
 When I think of him
 so far away, commencing 
 his adult life in this 
 America,
 my heart contracts 
 with ache.
  
 Other seasons, he drives 
 the county pick-up,
 weeds and snips 
 courthouse shrubbery 
 into symmetrical shapes.
 Justice is not so
 manicured.
  
 My nephew’s skin 
 is the color of dew
 in midnight moonlight,
 a jewel on this earth
 living so far from those
 who love him.
  
 My nephew is a member
 of the brotherhood
 of all men,
 as we all are,
 with our varying
 degrees of melanin,
 but the same number
 of cytes to make
 precious brown pigment.
  
 & Some of us excel
 in pigment, my nephew’s
 skin rich, beautiful, 
 mine less so.

 Maybe you stood in line
 behind my nephew
 at Walmart,
 you just buying a gallon 
 of milk, his skin 
 the color of polite,
 said, go on ahead of me. 
  
 My nephew loves
 video games
 and pizza and burritos.
  
 Perhaps you know 
 a young man like him,
 or are the mother of 
 someone much like him, 
 or grandfather of, or teacher.
  
 Maybe my nephew has plowed
 your roadway, 
 or someone like him has,
 so the streets are safe 
 for you to pass.
  
 Maybe he mowed the grass
 in your neighborhood park
 so you could lie out 
 on sunny spring & summer days
 with your picnic and book,
 or play frisbee with friends,
 or toss a ball to your dog.
  
 My nephew loves dogs.
  
 If he’s been working hard,
 his skin glints
 as if lacquered with gold
 and if you’re lucky enough
 to behold it, my nephew’s
 contagious smile 
 will lighten your burdens
 for a while, 
 despite his dark skin.
  
 So when you ask me why
 I’m outraged 
 ask yourself why
 to white policemen 
 & 
 to white supremacists
 & 
 to whites who say they
 don’t see color,
 my nephew’s skin
 is the color of fear,
 the color of hatred,
 the color of oppression,
 the color of lynching
 in broad, bright daylight.

Close, Closer: a quarantine love poem

Close, Closer
         a quarantine love poem

  
 breathe me 
         into a heat that flares
                 air tightening between us
  
 i burn within your eyes
         myself aflame & wondrous

 speak my name over & over
                 swirling vibrations around us

                         —antidote to isolation
 
i have loved you
         [inside of time]
                 ) outside of being (
  
         this moment is a trench

 i am the sea
         encompass galaxies of night

 you are moonrise
        & every 
                 gleaming
                         shadow



 © Lana Hechtman Ayers  

Cosmogony

 Cosmogony 
  
 Eavesdropping on night sky,
 I listen to the stars 
 whisper lines of verse
 to one another 
 across lightyears 
 in the electromagnetic
 language of god—
 each of the trillions of galaxies 
 intoning a celestial renga
 of chaos and creation.
 We humans, a mere
 comma in the endless poem.
   

Lessons from Lockdown

Lessons from Lockdown
  
 None of us can truly know 
 the heart of the innocent man 
 waiting on death row,
 though living in this pandemic
 makes us feel closer to
 believing we fathom some
 great injustice.
  
 That death is the only promise
 life ever made, is made
 more visible now 
 by this invisible virus
 soaring in and out on breath.
  
 Taking stock, taking inventory
 however you say it
 (and not just of consumables
 like toilet paper and beans)
 arrives eventually, 
 for all of us,
 days or weeks into lockdown.
  
 Whether we’ve been furloughed
 (or just plain let go) 
 from our jobs, 
 or have taken to working from home,
 we come to that urgent 
 question honestly—
 what matters most in this moment?
    
 Contemplating impermanence,
 cherished clichés come first—
 love and family and peace.
 Shelter, and safety and sustenance.
 Friends and all our faculties—
 sight and breath and movement
 most of all, 
 while touch evades
 those of us fully alone.
  
 Home is the sky
 that is always beautiful,
 and the tree that leans a little,
 the chickadees coming 
 to the feeder outside
 the kitchen window.
 The low moon swooning 
 and disappearing into the night.
 Heightened awareness
 of sweetness.
 Beloved voices arriving 
 on the various devices.
  
 Giving and grace 
 become commonplace—
 singing, composing,
 planting herbs,
 dancing at the curb,
 dropping off goodies
 for the elderly couple
 up the street.
  
 We can keep this all going,
 the simple goodnesses, 
 the heightened senses,
 even without threat of virus,
 without sacrifice.
 All that is necessary—
 a shift in attitude from 
 being among the condemned—
 to a gratitude for what is,
 for the absurdity of uncertainty’s 
 boundless lessons and blessings.  

Remembering my brother…

A decade ago on this date, my brother died of a 9-11-related illness. 
This poem is from a collection about my brother, called 
The Dead Boy Sings in Heaven. 
The title comes from all my memories having been altered by knowing 
how young he'd die, so that even in my childhood memories, 
I began thinking of my brother as the dead boy. 
He's in my heart always, but especially now, 
since he was a first responder.

The Dead Boy Cruises
      for my older brother Alan

This may be the happiest
moment of my life.
I never get to tag along
with my brother at nighttime.

I’m in the backseat
of the dead boy’s
hilarious friend Vinnie’s
red AMC Pacer,
squeezed into the middle hump
by his friends
Richard (the smart one)
and Danny (the cute one).
My brother rides shotgun.

The windows rolled down,
the stars clear,
the radio throngs
“The Night Chicago Died”
all the way up
Rockaway Boulevard.

Everyone is quiet.
All there is
is the cruise,
and the breeze,
and song after song,
that make my heart beat
likes it’s in my throat.

As if to signal a turn,
the dead boy
extends his arm
out the open window.
My brother’s hand becomes
a sail.