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.
Thanks to Courtney Cook Williamson for selecting my poem,
“Metrophobia (the Fear of Poetry) in a Time Covid-19”
for The Decameron!
Here’s a link to their inspiring site:
Lana Hechtman Ayers Beach Walk Some people walk the beach as if it’s a job, striding along the shore with military rigor, head unswiveling, straight ahead, toward some finite goal of distance or steps taken. I’d rather stroll the beach slowly, my mind taking the time to spin, look in every direction— skyward, sandward, seaward, sunward, cloudward, birdward, duneward, horizonward. I don’t want to miss a single gull flap, or wave crest, or the grey pebble shaped like an egg. I need to inhale lungfuls of salt air, push my bare feet around, mounding little sand hills for no reason at all. Breezily, or nearly still, I need to see the movie of cumulus clouds sailing off for distant lands, observe the perpetual tide coming in, receding, coming back again. Broken shells are like breadcrumbs left by eons of time, reminding us how brief this beauty. Some days, long whips of seaweed tangle boulders amongst the sea-worn roots of ancient trees where we may rest and listen to the sea’s hallowed voice— singing with soughs and susurrus, the perfect parlance of patience. Tomorrow, I will will myself to go even slower, stay late, as late in the day as possible, even if the beach is only in my own mind, for breathing this deeply is a gift in these sheltered-in-place times.
Lana Hechtman Ayers Feast and Fear in the Time of Coronavirus My weekly trip to the grocery store equally may provide sustenance and death. I go knowing that along with the apples and eggs, I may be carting home coronavirus to you, my love, whose immune system is on lockdown for trying to assassinate your body’s entire vascular system. How is it we have come to this, humankind so at odds with nature, even our very own? Scientists say the teeny virus isn’t alive, exactly, just a bit of protein that possesses our same uncanny drive to reproduce, replace, and colonize everything not itself with acres of its progeny. O, the irony of being done in by a beast with our selfsame gluttony. But love, for this moment now, let us set aside these fears and feast on eggs and apples, allow me to nourish you with all the love I can, every sacred mouthful.
Lana Hechtman Ayers Embraces a pandemic poem A few nights ago, in the car on our way to our sheltering place, I was contemplating how all over the virtual world there is fear and poetry, people reporting sadness and success at isolation. All I could think was dark thoughts, how in two weeks or so many of us will be ill, and some gone forever. “Six degrees of separation,” my husband said, as our car careened through ghost town streets, “guarantees we will know someone whose life the virus claims. “And yet,” he continues, “Statistically, only a couple of percent of the billions of people on earth will die, so, it’s truly unlikely that it will be you or me.” I was a Mathematics major in college many decades ago, so my rational mind should have believed him. But the only place my thoughts could traverse was we haven’t written our wills. Our two dogs asleep in the back seat dreamt with bated breaths, perhaps chasing prey, unknowing of the prey all we humans had become. At home, where we’ll remain for untold months to come, we may hurt for healthy groceries, supplements, cleaning supplies, but reading material and entertainment channels flourish. However, no amount of binge watching British police dramas quells my prospering fears. The only way I manage even a few hours of restless sleep is to keep inventing a movie inside my head I hope someday some director will actually film— unreeling across my closed eyelids I watch strangers hugging in restaurants, strangers hugging in offices, in the middle of crowded streets, hugging in grocery stores and at gas stations— this and only this allows me to let go of the day’s dread, this envisioning of humans reaching out for one another, with open arms and hearts, these embraces after pandemic
Lana Hechtman Ayers
Praise in a Viral Time
for Jane & everyone
Praise to the grocery store worker
who greeted me cheerfully
on the phone when I let her know
I’d arrived to pick up
the order I’d placed online.
Praise to her eyes blue as today’s sky
that smiled apologetically
when she said she couldn’t fill
half my order, there being
simply not much in stock.
I told her she was a hero for being here
in a time of virus to help feed us,
and she said, “We’ll all get through
this crazy time together.”
Praise to the pharmacy clerk,
arriving at the drive-thru window
her hands gloved, smile
bright as her cherry-red hair.
I told her she was a hero for helping
us be as healthy as possible
with so many spreading illness.
She said, “I have lung issues
and both my children are
Let’s all be careful.”
Praise to all those who go to work
every day, side by side with a death
virus at work, invisible as breath.
Praise to the delivery drivers,
the warehouse and factory workers,
and the farm workers laboring
tirelessly for the good of all.
Praise to the firemen and lawmen,
to the pharmacists, the EMTs,
the nurses, the doctors always
selflessly on the front lines.
Praise to the tech folks
who keep our virtual worlds
so we can be together
in this ether of electrons.
Praise to all those online
posting messages of humor
and survival and hope.
Praise to the postal workers
even if it’s mostly bills, praise to
all the utility employees,
everyone who keeps the power on,
the water flowing cleanly, freely.
Praise to the garbage men,
praise to the cleaners and janitors
perhaps most of all, blessings
and endless praise for making
every surface safe once again.
Praise to the homeless man
who looked at my privileged self
with pity on his weather-beaten face
and said, “You can get through this,
honey. I’ve done it for years.”
Praise to human kindness
that blossoms in times of crisis,
like spring after a relentless,
Praise to every human on earth,
even those who have not yet
discovered in their hearts
a way to be generous,
a way to reach out to others
in these uncharted times.
Praise to being human because
we all have the capacity
for growth and change,
and at the very least,
all can be civil,
as my counselor Jane told me
on the phone this very morning,
Most of us stop for the red light.
by Lana Hechtman Ayers
We stand vigil together,
each alone in our own homes.
Some of us stay tuned
to the virtual world,
screen filled with frightening
body counts and new cases.
Some anxiously refreshing
so as not to miss a single update.
And as the walls of the financial
kingdom come crashing down,
others count their stock of stored goods,
toilet paper rolls overflowing closets.
And still others turn to streaming
entertainment, binge watching
every episode in a day.
We are living history,
we are dying history,
moment to moment learning,
perhaps at last,
how every human is entangled
with every other human
all across this blue globe.
Each heart’s warm blood
warms the air in our lungs,
air that we breathe through
speakable, kissable mouths
now kept at special distance.
We scramble to adjust to new
information that takes more
and more away of the way of life
we knew a few short weeks ago.
We seek some meaningful way
to achieve prescribed circumscribed
embrace with those we care for,
from afar, and from near, but now afar.
At last, we truly know
what it means to be connected
to one another by breath,
by wholly life-giving,
death-giving, life-giving breath.
We mourn yesterday when
a trip to the store seemed a chore,
and we mourn all our tomorrows’
cancelled events, the celebrations
that must go unmarked,
the fancy restaurant dinner,
or even a cup of coffee with friends.
Each of us falls in our own way
and only some of us will rise again.
Still, the sun rises,
and spring blossoms,
the sea stirs and stirs, and still,
we humans dare to hope.
Or rather, what I am re-reading:
in preparation for the 2nd book in the RJ Franklin Mystery Series which is available now!
Love the main character, an honorable police detective in a small Indiana town. Also, love Mama B, his surrogate mother who has a giant heart, cooks enough food for the entire neighborhood, and possesses no filter whatsoever.