Lana Hechtman Ayers once said that she would like to return to college and study Astrophysics. When All Else Fails is a collection that shows someone who is a natural born scientist and explorer of her universe. From the beginning in the dust and dark of a difficult and often abusive childhood, Ayers was discovering galaxies in the most unglamorous places. The Thing with Feathers is a child’s revelation that in spite of the abuse/cruelty heaped upon her; she doesn’t have to continue such a legacy merely by honoring the name of a simple bird. Ayers displays in such simple free verse that she was to choose an entirely different road from the violence of her mother, and that had made all the difference.
It is in The Slap that Ayers achieves Edgar Allen Poe’s definition of rhythmical creation of beauty
The scent of lilacs mingled with roses,
the old-fashioned single petal kind,
everything warm and bright.
I stretched to see the lovely lacework
of blue sky peeking through,
so that I hardly noticed that the tugging
at my wrist had stopped.
The assault that soon follows could have destroyed everything but a single leaf holds her, and the poem aloft. There is a shock not so much from the pain but nature’s endless wonder which continues to feed Ayers and the reader in poem after poem.
Her poetry reminds one of fractals. She returns to certain scenes and people, taking her words and allowing the experiences to be magnified. The boundaries do not become fuzzy but they expand to something precise, tender, or surreal like in Dinner War where the reader is treated to a jarring scene of a nightly ritual as capitalism cheerfully sponsors a futile war. Ayers later focuses her eye on the everyday landscape of modern American gun violence; only the spilled blood isn’t contained between commercials anymore.
There is a distinct lack of nostalgia in Ayers’ work. It is the kind of poetry best appreciated by an audience who react to Tolstoy’s description of happy and unhappy families with a well practiced sigh and short laugh. But Ayers doesn’t offer cynical poetry. This is a collection for adults who scanned their environment, and sought a different or more tender path; knowing the map might have to be invented. Ayers is sharing her emotional atlas. Like any self-created map, it might perplex some readers trying to figure out the larger puzzle of the poet when random pieces are dropped in, or it feels as if one is on an elevator and certain floors are skipped without comment.
When it does work it is like the dynamic rhythm of non-figurative art, or a surreal short film. A good example of that is Grown Up Already which is a kaleidoscope of memory and sensation, and there is an awareness of not having to carry the full weight of someone else’s preferred narrative, and knowing it can’t be rehearsed to perfection. When her poetry focuses on adulthood and the wide world, Ayers no longer has to secretly survive on the most meager offerings of kindness, love and grace but she doesn’t cloud her history or the history of so many others. There is sorrow, longing, and disappointment, and there is also this dance between lushness, and simplicity in her poetry. One is reminded of Mary Oliver’s poem, “Ocean”. Ayers’ collection belongs to a similar sect. You see her wrestling with it on the page:
I wonder if I have chosen
my religion wisely.
Fidelity to words
makes me vulnerable to hope.
This collection is a tapestry. Every thread has a purpose and leads the reader to a large and exquisite view of the world; even with the constant pricking of grief that comes with existence; Ayers continues to find beauty, bewilderment, and comfort in life.