Poems by Lana Hechtman Ayers
after David Ignatow
Nebula, from the Latin meaning cloud, are composed of interstellar dust, hydrogen, helium, and other gases. Astronomers have counted 3000 nebulae in our Milky Way thus far, some millions of light years across, others as small as earth, but all possessing so little mass they’d weigh less than a common house cat. I’ve never counted anything to 3000. How long would it take me to get to 3000 blades of grass, 3000 lights in the sky, 3000 breaths? Feels like all of time—a number that small seems infinite to me—a finite bit of matter weighing quite a bit more than a house cat—10 times more than my chunky cat Leonard. How insignificant is our mass in a universe of many thousands of galaxies composed almost entirely of gases and dark voids between? Mass doesn’t last, converting itself to energy eventually. Much of the light we see shining in the night sky comes to us from billions of years ago. There was no me, no Leonard. There will never be again. Probably. And most of the stars we think we see, have ceased to exist. Due to the largely perplexing laws of physics, I can count on those dead celestial bodies, blink and make a wish or two. Come to think of it, all the atoms that make up me and Leonard, all our elements came from a nebula where those stars were being born. So, in a way, we are old as the universe and infinite, too. It’s just these human and cat shaped compounds we walk around in are fairly new. The odds of either us ever existing have always been astronomical. Yet here we are. How lucky are we?
WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD
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 lazy 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 room from the radio,
filling it with fluttering Monarch butterflies,
lilac blossoms heavy with scent,
steamy corn on the cob dripping butter
onto the rust shag rug, suddenly transformed
to a carpet of soft green grass my toes
couldn’t resist & a cool breeze came 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
their heads from their perch on the coffee table,
& daddy whistled along, while our dog
rolled cartwheels & ice cream sundaes
floated down from the sky where once
was ceiling and roof, now only 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 room smelled of
sweat in the humid airless room.
My mother complained about the sun
& my brother blamed me for something
I hadn’t done, my father didn’t look up
from the paper & ignored the fuss.
Me, I closed my eyes & covered my ears.
I could still hear Satchmo singing
in the middle of my chest,
as if inside my heart, inside my breath.
His song has lived there ever since.