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Sunbathing in Cemeteries

Coming soon! 

A note from the author: 

I have been a bit busy with wrapping up my biology degree and chemistry minor and preparing for the MCAT. I am beginning to think I collect college degrees like Thanos sought infinity stones. But I haven’t stopped writing, and I don’t think I even could quit writing. Over the past years, I wrote well over a hundred poems and have culled that into 91 new poems covering PTSD, the South, and dating after a divorce. My thirties have not been uneventful. 

Science has also become increasingly entwined in my work as I realized facets of genetics or microbiology were perfect metaphors for my daily experiences, and rather than dilute the metaphors, I added footnotes where necessary. (Most people don’t know or really care about cutting enzymes, I’m told. ) I hope you love the new lines and that they make you feel less alone if you’re wrestling with PTSD as I have. 

–Jessi

Here are a few excerpts from Sunbathing in Cemeteries:

Time

“Time heals all things.”

You cough this pearl of wisdom up at me.

But it’s not a pearl; it’s just a grain of sand.

And you’re not as sage as an oyster.

How can a clock’s ticking hands heal me?

If I’m lost in the eardrum-lancing tick-tick-tick,

will my memories fade?

What about wrinkles, gray hair, skin elasticity?

Wilting flowers? Sliced apples?

Ocean plastic? Cancer?

You feed some monsters hours and days,

and they grow.

Trauma isn’t bank interest.

The Club

There’s no glitter here.

And the lighting doesn’t flatter.

But all of the alcohol you can pour is included with a lifetime membership.

We all get our own photo shoots.

We’re models you see—

            of blossoming bruises and chokers stuck to our skin.

We skip the lines—

            at the ER.

We take off our clothes—

            to don backless gowns.

We do interviews—

            with men who forgot their microphones.

Our breaths come in ragged gasps.

We have nights we can’t forget

and friends who won’t remember us.

I won’t welcome you to our club,

but I’ll tell those waiting outside to go to hell

when they say you earned your membership.

1 in 8

1 in 8 girls who witness domestic violence grow up to experience it.

I saw the tsunami coming for my daughter when I read that.

And I was desperate.

Those are not her stars!

I threw the tea leaves back.

Braced against the shore, I wrapped myself around her.

I drew a circle,

summoning generations of women who endured

punches, burns, neglect, and misplaced blame.

Men made us invisible shields for their egos,

and now we hold the line.

We inscribed “Never Again” on her soul

and shared our grimoire.

Darling, here’s what we bled to learn.

Here’s when to run.

Box of Paradoxes

As a girl, I watched the deacons of my church kick a teenager out for not being white enough.

And I thought about the prostitute whose feet Jesus washed.

Was she white and pretty?

Or maybe a little too old to keep turning tricks?

Was she baring too much skin?

Do you think the congregation knew she wasn’t Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman?

Teenage boys who wore confederate flag belt buckles

got away with Skoal cans in their pockets and dipping in class

as a black principal kept a fragile peace.

I read too much and still don’t know how to keep my mouth shut.

Those boys threatened to burn a cross in my yard.

And I enjoyed the irony of the perfect icon for the South—desecrating religion in flaming hatred.

There was a black homecoming court and a white one. Separate. Equal?

Somehow black girls didn’t win beauty pageants.

We all drowned in the Barbie aisle standards. Don’t be pale. Don’t be black. Be California tan.

I held my breath as black people walked into the big, monied Baptist churches.

They’re new and don’t know.

We only have white Jesus here.

Black Jesus is down the road and his people like music better;

they don’t torture it out of the piano.

Mississippi has everyone trapped in a box,

held in the hands of an average white man.

The borders don’t look like cardboard,

but I’m sealed inside with everyone who thinks.

Its sticky tape residue clings to my skin like the red clay when I run barefoot.

Magnolia perfume permeates the layers,

cloying like the dead.

And some of us write on the walls.

Some of us sing our heartbreak.

Some of us paint the chaos within.

Art is born in contradiction.