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.
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 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.
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.