Author Archives: Julie Ayers

About Julie Ayers

Seasoned apocaloptimist, keen admirer of well-placed words, fierce mama bear of extra special children, black belt hugger, and advocate for a fashion rebellion which elevates the most human of hearts to socially acceptable outerwear.

Armistice

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Swing through the chaos that goes cellular
overturned chairs and broken
heirlooms
upright
pianos
and medal-ridden jackets paraded
everything
in pieces
and hospitals
and central lines
vomit and pills and tears and shouting

But it is history
gift or curse
full or empty
it depends on the moon
or zodiac
or if it Thursday
or maybe Sunday
or it rained
but mostly if only one call was made
to make a thing happen
….any thing

People have died
and others have not
some walk away
and some dig in
fortify foxholes

Every closet
a rainbow
of unified colors
dishes aligned
and broken
and aligned again

Battles may be routinely lost
but skirmishes
with countertops and dark loads
can be won

There is no lasting peace
no peace
unless you’re savoring
seconds

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What To Say to a Woman

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The other night, five female friends and I were in a nearly empty movie theater watching Harry Dean Stanton’s final film, Lucky. There were maybe three other viewers scattered throughout the place. A man entered and took a seat immediately in front of us. He spent some time at one end of our group, then got up and moved down a few seats to sit directly in front of me.

Right away, after he took the seat in front me, I felt slightly uncomfortable. Why, in such an empty theater, would he choose to sit in the row in front of us? He also didn’t sit and look ahead at the screen, but instead slumped sideways in his seat, resting the side of his head on the seat back, almost as if he planned to sleep. Eventually, I noticed the light of his cell phone on. Yes, impolite for your cell phone screen to be glowing in a theater, but not criminal. But then, he slipped his cell phone down low between the seat and just above the floor in our aisle, giving his camera a clear view of our bottoms.

By this point, the friends on either side of me were also noticing his behavior and concerned, uncomfortable, and upset. They didn’t see him slide the cell phone through, but just his odd behavior of sitting right by us, sitting sideways, and not watching the movie and instead having his cell phone glowing seemed potentially threatening somehow.

I whispered to my friend what I’d seen with his phone and we decided to move. One of our group said something to the man as she passed him. About ten minutes after we moved, he got up and left. The movie was only half over.

Was he trying to up-skirt our group? Probably. When the movie ended, I sought out theater staff to alert them to his odd behavior and tell them they may want to keep and eye out for him in the future.

So this is what it is like to be a woman. You trust your instincts and watch the creep meter, but you also don’t want to assume men mean to exploit you, objectify you, or do you harm. It’s a challenging line to walk and get right — and your safety depends on getting it right.

As I relayed the account of what happened to a male friend, I ended by making a frustrated comment like, “come on men, you can do better!” He took offense and chose to try and school me for being sexist and over-generalizing.

Here is what I’d like to say to men out there about our current, highly charged climate regarding sexually abuse and how you can be supportive of your female friends, co-workers, relatives, and partners.

1) If we are opening up and sharing our experience of harassment, abuse, or sexual assault with you, we obviously trust you and consider you a safe person. Please don’t get defensive and feel like you need to explain to us that not all men are jerks or abusive. We obviously know that, since we feel like we can talk to you. But that doesn’t not change the fact that most women experience harassment, abuse, and even sexual assault throughout their life. That doesn’t mean the women don’t have to be on guard in a way around men that men will never have to be on a day-by-day, minute-by-minute basis around women. That doesn’t mean the woman speaking to you dislikes or distrusts all men, but she unfortunately probably has not just had one or two, but dozens, possibly hundreds of experiences were she has been harassed and verbally or physically assaulted by men in almost every setting you can imagine — on the street, in school, at work, while babysitting, at home, on a date, in the subway, during a job interview, at the grocery store. It is ubiquitous. Think of it this way, if a friend of yours who is African American is telling you about how they were followed throughout the store by a white security guard when they went in to buy a shirt the other day, and then later that same week were pulled over by a white officer for a taillight being out and were asked to step out of the car, pushed down on the hood spread eagle, and patted down, and they say, “what is up with white people? Why are they always assuming if you’re black, you’re a criminal?” Would you listen to them and believe them and understand where their frustration is coming from or would you lecture them about being racist?

2) Just listen and be empathetic. Tell them you are willing to listen, that you believe them, and you are sorry that this happened to them. Try to imagine how it feels to be treated like an object instead of a human being. Understand harassing and assaulting women is a way to try and steal away their power and make them less than. Sympathize with whatever emotions the encounter raised for them, whether that is fear, anger, frustration, sadness, rage, despair, or a sense of helplessness. Don’t judge them for how the situation made them feel or tell them what they should have done or said. Provide a strong shoulder, a non-judgmental ear, and an open heart.

3) Offer your support emotionally or even physically if it is appropriate. Be an ally. If they are being harassed by someone you know, offer to stand with them in the future and call out the harassment and abuse. There is strength in numbers. Don’t remain silent and be complicit when you see sexual harassment or abuse happening. It is not “boys being boys.” Some might argue it is only words or gestures and, therefore, harmless, but since one in four women is raped in her lifetime, women are horrifyingly aware that inappropriate and disrespectful words spoken about women and tolerated by those listening creates an unsafe environment for women. A guy yelling “nice ass” to you on the street doesn’t make you feel flattered, but much more likely makes you feel intimidated and fearful if you are a woman. You wonder about what else he might say or do. Will he follow you?

4) Do not blame or shame a woman by asking questions or making comments about where they were at the time, what they were doing or not doing there, and what they were wearing or not wearing. The only thing that can prevent a woman from being harassed or assaulted is if a man does not engage in that behavior. A woman’s age, appearance, state of alertness, or physical location cannot keep her harassment or assault free. Harassment and sexual assault can, and does, happen to every type of woman in every type of place. Do not perpetuate the false narrative that if a woman dressed more modestly, behaved more demurely, stayed out of certain locations, and remained always hyper alert, she would not be harassed or assaulted. That is a lie, plain and simple. When something does happen, she is the victim. There is nothing she did that explains or justifies harassment and abuse. Not ever.

As a rape survivor myself, I am keenly sensitized to the issue of female harassment and abuse. As virginal sixteen-year-old wearing corduroys, a sweater, and ski jacket, I never expected to by sexually assaulted by the young man I had been dating. But it happened, and I’ve had to work to recover from that assault and not let it destroy my life. Because I am a rape survivor does not mean I hate or distrust men. But it does mean that I am painfully aware that even people you know can potentially hurt you. Despite that, I hold on fiercely to the belief that all people are good and kind and trustworthy. Everyone has their story that brought them to this moment in this way. Everyone is trying to find happiness and reduce their own pain. We are all capable of growing and evolving and overcoming our pasts.

#Metoo is highlighting what a huge problem we still face when it comes to sexual equality and treating one another with respect. Let’s view this as an opportunity for growth. Let’s do better by one another. Let’s believe one another. Let’s support each other. Let’s change up the dance steps. Let’s make our world safer and kinder. Let’s overcome our past.

An Uneasy Green

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There was pond scum here
Coating the water’s surface
She circled
Trailing a path
Of desiccated leaves
That obscured all evidence
Of the exceedingly plump groundhog
That called this hill home

She’d once written a poem long ago
About a groundhog’s destruction
And her raking pond scum into a trap
Altering the surface
But not what lurked underneath
The redwood-wrapped house
Overlooking another body

Half a country away
And still hunted by water-loving vermin
She’d learned to see the beauty
In the floating green fur
But the smell of decay and rot lingered
Even after she removed herself
Far from the original source

Eyed Up

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Standing at the edge of the soccer field
She swung her rope
Jumped
Jumped again
Varying her speed to vary her heart rate
Intense bursts followed by leisurely hops
She kept her eyes on her son’s practice
His perspiring brow mirroring her own
As he sprinted towards the goal

Other eyes were on her
Some of the moms
Some of the dads
Some dads’ eyes lingering
Assuming she performed for them
Versus her health
Her form fitting yoga pants and sports shirt
Selected by her for comfort
And to insure her clothing didn’t obstruct her workout
Kept her safe and cool
Moved well with her
And made her feel confident
Must really have been slipped into
They believed
To entice men to stop and stare
Excite a biological imperative to ogle each curve
And assess her attractiveness
Her motives
Her worth

How shameful for a busy mom
To multitask on a beautiful day
Attend her son’s practice
And still fit in some exercise
Before stopping at the store
To pick up her family’s own groceries
As well as those of her elderly mother
Swing by her mom’s place to drop off the bags
Carry them all in and unload them
And encourage her sweaty, antsy son to sit by his grandma
And swap stories about their day
As she threw out the expired yogurt and milk in the fridge
Print so small her mom could never spot the spoil
Change her sheets
Fill her mom’s pill box for the week
And make sure she had everything she needs

Finally, setting out her trash cans on the curb
Before climbing back in her car
To rush home in time to prepare dinner
For her two hungry boys and hungrier husband
Put her own groceries away
Then run her other son to swim practice
And remain poolside to praise his progress
Before heading back home and throwing in two loads of laundry
Paying the bills
While helping both boys with their homework
Fill out permissions slips for upcoming field trips
Clean up after the dog in the yard before the sun set
And throw a ball for their ancient spaniel to chase
Scratch her belly and giving her a treat
Pack everyone’s lunches for the next day
Fold the now clean laundry and set it atop appropriate dressers
Load the dishwasher
Wipe off the counters
Ask her husband about his day
And talk about his frustration with his boss
And the state of the country
And their shared distaste over the unfathomable resurgence of high-waisted jeans
Finalize the schedule for the upcoming weekend
To determine which parent is taking which child to which game
As they perfectly conflict on Saturday
Before she set out her clothes for the next day
So when she gets up before the sun rises
She won’t need to turn on the light
And disturb her husband as she gets ready for work
Sets out the cereal boxes and bowls for the family
Rinses blueberries and places them in the center of the table
Along with a note, “Love you all. Boys, please turn in the signed permissions slips that I put in your folders in your backpacks or you won’t be able to go on the trip to Philly. Have a wonderful day!”
And heads out the door in the still dark
To go make money
To help pay for the team fees and the groceries and the gas
And veterinarian bills

Please
Let us judge this mom
Let’s put pictures of her jumping rope on social media
Let’s assume she chose to stand where she stood so everyone could best see her
Instead of where she had room to jump and still see the field
And let’s talk to all of our friends about her disparagingly
Criticize her for her ostentatious show
Of fitness and a concern for her own health and wellbeing
As she carries the weight of her family
On her capable, well defined shoulders every day
With enthusiasm and love

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Life will do what it does
lull us
then toss us airborne
to plunge untethered

Her blond head on the hospital pillow
as she wanders out of our reach
her mother, bedside
calling her home

Another’s cells gone rogue
…the sort through treatment options
decisions to make that alter
marking what now becomes
a time before
a time after

The one keeping to quiet corners
having walked another
beloved to the final
beat of his limitless heart

I’m surrounded by heroes
in the grocery store
who have suffered greatly
but still buy strawberry jam
and avocados
bake pies and grill corn

They have shown grace
and disintegrated in fear and grief
alternately
bedpans have been thrown
fingers laced gently
regrettable words spilled
mopped up later
or later still
or never

We stand firm
lay prone in puddles
get back up
repeat
repeat

This is the only way
Dark and beautiful

July 2017

 

 

first

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(for G.)

one day you just get lucky
and there in the alley behind your house
is a woman with a rake
scraping leaves out of crevices
and forming crisp piles
on the cement

she’s very pregnant
dress straining against the pull
of a baby eager to be born
her hair a mass of tied back braids

when she turns
you wave
and life is altered

there are scratch cakes
and the kind of laughter that makes you hurt
the sisterhood thing locks
that softness covering formidable steel girding
never anything to forgive

you watch each other unravel
repeatedly
reform
placidly lovely
or wild

you tell kind lies
about bad haircuts
and antiseptics truths
about all the rest

you both fall asleep sure
every damn night
that your backs are good and got

Astro Was Too Difficult to Say

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I searched for you
wanted to bring you home
and into our hearts
give my children something I never had
help them learn about dogged devotion,
joy, attachment
the responsibility that inevitably comes with love

I didn’t expect your moose-iness
or that you’d be part muppet, part Barry White
or that my son would want to die if you did
that he would create a whole religion based
off of your patience and unwavering fidelity
that when the world became far too overwhelming
the only chance he had to regain peace
was waiting in the fur of your neck
and the deep quiet of your dark eyes

NaPoWriMo Day 30