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. 

Mother’s Day Gift in the Pandemic

 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

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. 

Another World, a pandemic poem

 Another World
             a pandemic poem
  
This morning I woke in the former world, 
the world before the virus, or so I believed. 
The sun had the same kiss of brass to it 
as it does in this post Covid 19 morning. 
The scent of spring was similarly buoyant
on the morning breeze, daffodils and the early 
hyacinths. The same black-mohawked Steller’s Jay 
perched on the edge of the roof, staring down 
at the morning coastline below our hillside, 
sea dark and serene, swells horizonward with 
white crests like bobbing gulls. They may 
have been actual seagulls, this morning, 
or in that former world. A calm, lulled, 
sort of ordinary morning that brims with 
coffee aroma and the slow thoughts that come 
into focus with each sip—the necessary 
to do list—work, pets, chores. A morning that 
but for the virus could be any other. I can 
take  my cat into my arms, but not hug 
my neighbor, just home from his cataract 
surgery at the hospital. I cannot take 
the dogs for a morning stroll in 
the shuttered park, nor meet a friend out 
for lunch, nor run an errand 
just to pick up an item or two. 
Every decision in this world’s morning 
is about staying far from death’s embrace. 
About keeping each other safe. 
About love filtered through masks and screens 
and the morning light of pandemic.
   

Welcome to the New World, a pandemic poem

Lana Hechtman Ayers
  
 Welcome to the New World
  
 Movement in my peripheral vision’s edge
 makes me look away from the screen
 out the window in front of my desk.
 I’m barely in time to catch the tell-tale
 white head and serrated wide wings
 of an eagle—American symbol of freedom—
 before it soars over the roofline out of view.
 I’ve been staring at my computer for so long
 the words of the manuscript I’m editing 
 have become ancient hieroglyphics. 
  
 The sight of the cumulus-filled sky bordered 
 in blue and the rippled pink-tinged beige sand 
 and aqua green seawater below the hillside 
 is such welcome relief. Concentration has been 
 hard to achieve with the startling grief 
 I’m experiencing  during this global pandemic—
 so many losses. To look out at this bright spring day 
 one could be fooled into believing all is well. 
 Calm. People strolling the weekday beach,
 throwing frisbees or tossing balls to their dogs.
  
 Even the stubborn hydrangea outside my porch
 gate has come into full leaf, buds at the ready.
 But my heart will not settle into steady rhythm.
 My breath is shallow. Later, I must make my weekly
 excursion into town for food—masked, gloved,
 hatted, scarfed—looking like a nineteenth century
 immigrant just off the boat from Poland,
 wearing all of the clothes she owned at once, 
 frightened of the unknown new territory where
 communication and comfort appeared impossible.
  
 I wonder, is this how my grandmother felt,
 fifteen and alone, disembarked at Ellis Island
 into the blinding sunlight after weeks seasick
 in the dark bowels of the ship? Her family had sent
 her in 1918, decades ahead of the holocaust, 
 not knowing she’d be the only one of her bloodline
 to make safe passage. And how did my young
 grandmother manage her loneliness, 
 knowing no one else, everyone and everything 
 around her strange and possibly dangerous?
  
 I never once in all the years I knew her, nor 
 in the years since her passing, stopped to think 
 of her bravery. I never thanked her or celebrated 
 her for being the heroine she was. She made my 
 American life possible. If my grandmother could 
 muster all that courage at the tender age of fifteen 
 for a sea journey of weeks, surely, I can 
 manage as much for a simple half-hour trip to 
 the grocery store and back, in my own car,
 me a native here in my fifth decade of life.