For those of you who have read my contemporary story of Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, Red Riding Hood’s Real Life ~ a novel in verse, here’s a little pandemic update. Special thanks to G.G. Silverman for her workshop “Way of the Wolf” where this new poem howled into being.
Spoiler alert!!! If you haven’t finished reading my novel-in-verse, you may want to hold off reading this poem until you have.
Lana Hechtman Ayers © 2021
The Wolf’s Pandemic Report
Mornings after breakfast of Earl Grey
and freshly baked bread,
dough mixed by Red,
risen, kneaded by me,
she confines herself to the bedroom
of our three-room cabin by the sea,
where she plays
with a kiln-less sort of clay,
into kaleidoscopic moons,
while I, in the living room
delve into pastels,
not my usual palette,
but with the pandemic draining joy
I’m forced to employ
and Mickey-D yellows
to do the bidding
of my once feral imagery.
This is how we pass
but the nights—o the nights—
remain our delight,
in slinky shadow of overcast
or in adoring lunar glimmer,
we smolder with desire,
within the hearths
of one another’s haunches.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
Mother’s Day Gift in the Pandemic As the young man comes closer than three feet to hand me a complementary Mother's Day gift bag, You may be killing me is what I think but do not say, feeling the heat of fury rise in my throat. I am trying to keep my mouth shut, hold my breath, my cotton mask no match for his youth and eagerness to provide cheerful customer service. He has on a mask, but somehow I can tell he's smiling— happy eyes. He’s high school age, maybe a bit older, wants to chat. Says he's going to go for lots of hikes. Never has he appreciated the sun so much since coronavirus, all this being trapped indoors. He seems so fervent and strong and maybe will have a whole life ahead of him. I hope so. Mine may be over soon now that his breath has come within the death radius. He glows with health. I have lived longer than I ever believed I would, an angsty teen thinking maybe I'd make it to 21. But the years passed with me still breathing. I see now even in the worst of times—with my grandmother dying, my violent husband trying to kill me, my father dying, my separation, divorce, my best friend dying, my brother dying— all of it was a gift I had little idea how to unwrap, how to make use of. Now as each day is a promise not made, I cherish the sweetness of this boy's optimism, my little puff of anger gone. I have never been a mother to any but four-legged creatures. Suddenly I have this lethal urge to hug this young man— Coronavirus be damned— tell him he is wonderful and loved and the world is better for his presence in it. I do neither. I don't know him. But I do wish him well and thank him for his heroism in this time. I hope the world will be the kind of mother he needs most. As for me, today is as good a last day on earth as any. Though I'd rather rain than this balmy sun. I've had a mere five decades to practice my humanity, still very much a work in progress. No one ever gets it completely right my Buddhist coach assures me. Last week she came close to being in a fatal auto accident. The sun was not so blameless then, blinding her as she came around a curve. Who would have thought us as fragile as we are against light and breath? Today I will pet my dogs and cats and hug my husband. Drink tea. Eat a ginger cookie or two. It will be enough. More than.
Pandemic Wonder for Andy None of us is immune to death, we humans born with an expiration guarantee. This was always the deal. So why does death feel more real than ever before? There’s no cure or vaccine for the Corvid 19 yet, sure and there may never be. Perhaps it will rage through all humanity until only the fittest remain. How many lives will be claimed when this pandemic is finally history? That, and for how long this enforced isolation will continue are a fatal mystery. But you and I are blessed that while living through such stressful times, we are one another’s shelter in place, each other’s compassionate grace. And the days, however brief they may be, grow sweeter not in spite of, but because of coronavirus’ looming noose. We live so much closer now— as we should have done all along, a gift granted by uncertainty— this death threat that heightens and enlivens our love.