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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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.