I hope you’ll help me write new poems every month by posting a poetry prompt in the comments section of my blog.
The first week of the month, I’ll choose one of your wonderful prompts, write a new poem and post it, offering a special thank you to the person who provided the inspiration.
So let’s get started right now–Prompt Me! by posting your poetry prompt in the comments.
Thank you for participating.
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.
Poet Marvin Bell died last week. I had the opportunity to meet and work with him several times. He was always kind in his feedback and upbeat, excited about poetry and life in general. Rest in peace and poetry, Marvin. Here is a poem I wrote for him fourteen years ago, after his famous Dead Man poems.
The Dead Man and Haystacks
by Lana Hechtman Ayers © 2006
for Marvin Bell
1.The Dead Man At Haystack Rock, OR, July 2006
The Dead Man knows Haystack Rock is not one of the eight wonders of the world.
Still, he half-expected (his alive half) that it would be like another World’s Biggest Kielbasa in Chicopee or Half Dog-Half Deer outside Des Moines.
Roadside attractions and tourist destinations often turn out to be the way some enterprising folks bilk the low-intellect Americans of their not-so-hard-earned bucks.
The Kielbasa wasn’t much bigger than a picnic table.
The half and half dog simply had a bobbed tail and graceful stature.
But Haystack Rock takes the Dead man by surprise, he who’s seen so many rocks, above and below ground.
If he were a pre-teen he’d dub it Awesome.
At his wizened age, whatever that is, he calls it Awesome.
Despite all the photos, postcards, and paintings of it—its presence in person is awe-inspiring.
The scale, he thinks it must be or maybe that old Hebrew notion of the rock as God.
Whatever it is, it feels good sometimes to feel small.
With a perfection such as Haystack Rock before you, it lessen the burden of having to try to be
so perfect all the time.
It becomes obvious how fool-hardy the quest for perfection is for anyone, especially the Dead Man.
2. The Dead Man At Chailly, Sunrise 1865
The Dead Man finds himself in front of the most gargantuan haystack he’s ever seen—hay not rock.
The sun has already climbed midway, so that the haystack casts its shadow over him.
The Dead Man is confused.
He knows he was just in Oregon, thinking about the shape of the stone and how it reminded him of something else he’d seen.
The Dead Man notices there’s something odd about this place.
The sky seems to comprised of tiny dots of paint.
The haystack too, the green ground, the shadow, the distant blue mountains, all dots of paint.
Am I in need of glasses, am I going blind, is this a seizure? the Dead man wonders.
Just as the Dead Man is about to faint with worry, he remembers Monet, the painting.
This is the one that Monet painted before all the others.
It took Monet 25 more years to do that famous series of wheatstacks.
This is the haystack that started it all.
The Dead Man realizes he is standing inside the painting.
The Dead Man checks to see if he is also made of tiny dots of paint.
He is not.
Somehow the notion of art has transported him inside it.
The Dead Man decides Monet’s obsession with the scale and proportion and color of haystacks was more than justified but wonders about the 25 years of not painting haystacks.
I am grateful to Jason Barber for publishing 3 of my poems in the current issue of Buddhist Poetry Review. Such an honor to have work in this fine publication.
I’ve been grappling with the death on August 10th of Pat Schneider, founder of The Amherst Method of leading writing workshops. She was my workshop mentor, and taught me everything I know and love about facilitating groups for generative writing. But she taught me so much more than how to be an empathetic leader. She forever changed my life and how I thought about writing, including my own words. This poem is for Pat.
All Pat Schneider Taught Me
by Lana Hechtman Ayers
You never know at the time,
or at least I never have,
when a chance encounter
will change the course of your life,
and in my case, the flow of generosity,
not only away from the heart to others,
but back toward.
Having been writing since
I could manage a crayon between
my chunky thumb and index finger,
those words rushed and sloppy
were my life raft, a way of testifying
that was surviving daily assault
and still breathing, still willing
to keep breathing, but barely so.
Until I discovered the Amherst Method
casually perusing ads at the back of
a writer’s magazine, I was certain
my words had no use to others,
artless and overwhelming,
without value, and beyond that,
a waste of precious trees.
In that training circle
in the Amherst Writers Method
Pat Schneider’s living room,
I learned how to listen deeply,
not only to others, but to my own soul.
How its voice could raise a bell
in celebration with and for others.
How its lonely distant train whistle
on the night breeze could help
relieve others’ suffering.
In that sacred Amherst circle,
the voices around the room,
were as much my own as their own.
I learned listening is
the most active verb
and speaking is an act of generosity.
I learned forgiveness
of self and others
begins with the words written
on the page, then breathed out
by the lungs, flowing liquid oxygen
into the veins and every organ.
My life with words transformed
from despair to joy,
becoming charged with vitality,
with a soul-renewing energy.
In those precious days with Pat
in her cozy home,
my breath changed,
my heart changed.
I became a writer welcomed into
the family of writers,
as grand and myriad
as every human who has ever
spoken a syllable of their own truth.
And I learned to believe
my own truth could be art
as well as power.
My dad died nearly 30 years ago, but if he were still here, he’d turn 96 this week. Happy birthday in heaven, Dad.
by Lana Ayers
My dad woke before the 5:30 AM alarm weekdays to ready himself for his hourlong commute to work as a maintenance man. Weekends too, he rose that early out of habit. On Saturdays he would trim the yew bush shrubberies, weed the garden, prune the leggy roses, sweep the driveway and the path leading to the house, all before starting the loud brassy gas lawnmower at 9:00 AM. The delay in mowing not so much to avoid waking the rest of us lazy lay-ins—my mother, my older brother, and me—but to remind us a Saturday is not to be wasted.
Upon hearing the grinding roar, my brother and I would throw off our covers and rush into the living room. Being six years older than me, it was understood my brother got to choose what we watched on TV. Dial on and channel clicked, monsters from outer space would fill the monochromatic screen. Though I would have preferred Bugs Bunny cartoons, I learned to love those science fiction B movies as much as my brother did.
After a half hour of mowing the small front lawn and driveway median strip of grass outside our 1955 brick ranch house, my dad would come in by the side door of the house that looked into the living room and peak at us. My brother and I sat cross-legged on the orange shag carpet, slurping sugary cereal from bright plastic bowls. Dad would shrug out of his grass- clipping-covered shoes which brought such a rich smell of life into the dark, dusty house. Then he’d step over to us in his socked feet to pat us each on the head. Often, there was a kiss instead of a pat. Sometimes both.
“That’s not a real breakfast,” Dad would say.
Sometimes I broke away from watching swamp monsters or crazed robots and followed my dad into small square kitchen made darker by brown cabinets in a single East facing window. Dad would begin his Saturday morning routine of removing all the ingredients for a cheese and egg scramble from the refrigerator—the only appliance that seemed to be changed out over the years: first a short stocky Norge that looked more like a bank safe, then an avocado green number, and finally the brown fridge with a darker frame of black—and set them on three-foot length of counter between the stove top and sink.
Next, he got out a mixing bowl from one cupboard, a frying pan from another, and finally a butter knife, spatula and whisk from the drawer below the mustard-yellow corded wall phone. My dad would whistle as he cracked eggs and stirred, not tunes I recognized, but always cheerful. He switched on the gas flame under the frying pan, which came on with a puff, like a teeny explosion. He flipped half a stick of butter off the knife and swirled the pan around, before pouring in the egg, milk, and American cheese mixture.
Dad whistled and stirred with the spatula for a few moments. When he stopped stirring, he went and removed four slices of bread from the wooden bread box on the counter next to the fridge, set those in the toaster beside it and pushed the plunger down. By this time, he’d call out “Plates” loudly if I were still in front of the TV; softly if I were there with him in the kitchen watching his nimble movements .
I would reach into the cabinet under the window and get out a stack of three dinner-sized plates, setting them on the counter next to the stove. My dad gathered clean forks from the green dish drainer next to the sink and handed them to me. A round Formica-topped table was shoved into the corner of the kitchen. Along with forks, I set out a napkin for each of us from the vertical orange holder. Then, I got two glasses out of the dish drain and filled them with milk from the half-gallon carton in the fridge. Then I set butter dish in the center of the table. Dad reached for the percolator next to the toaster and poured a cup of coffee into his favorite mug–a translucent white glass Pyrex cup he’d gotten for free for filling his tank with gas at the Esso station.
“Hot and hearty, come and get it,” my dad would call to my brother.
Finally, when my brother and I were seated, my dad doled out the meal and presented the two of us each with a steaming plate of eggs and a slice of toast. Dad’s only reward to himself for cooking us breakfast was an extra piece of toast to go with his eggs.
Mother never woke early enough to be treated to the scramble feast. I always wondered if she somehow resented Dad usurping her kitchen. But my brother and I were delighted to partake in his generosity—a warm breakfast one day a week. Saturday breakfast was a meal that perfumed the house with eggy, cheesy, buttery aroma. I probably could have filled my belly up on the scent alone.
And my brother and I never minded missing a few minutes of the movies, reruns we’d seen dozens of times anyway. Dad never talked while we ate, busy buttering toast and chomping away, though he sometimes hummed between bites of cheesy, buttery eggs. The comfortable silence on these Saturday mornings of warm, satisfying breakfasts was one of the deepest expressions of love I experienced growing up.
I’m delighted and honored to have a flash memoir piece up at Bright Flash Literary Review.
Here’s the link in case you’d like to read the piece: https://brightflash1000.com/2020/08/05/i-dont-remember-his-name/?fbclid=IwAR3CL_Hgob6Hyijw1tEsGPoAuwJ_6F-UTzcHxYYZLQOspIh1POwzLQJKS7Y
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.