Hell and High Water: Publication Day

IT’S HERE! Hell and High Water is now available as an ebook and in paperback! I am excited to share my lines with those who need them.

Ebook coverOne of my favorite quotes about art is from Cesar A. Cruz, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” And that’s what I’ve set out to do. Many of my lines will resonate with the abused and the disillusioned. And they might not be comfortable for anyone who hasn’t been through the hell of post traumatic stress disorder or its many symptoms. I published the volume anyway. Soothing those still navigating hell is more important than going along with unwritten social rules regarding mental health and trauma. I’m grinding taboos and mental health stigmas to dust, while utterly failing to hide the past plaguing me. Rather, I’ve opened my doors and invited the rest of the broken inside.

I’ve got the balm for abuse, heartbreak, recovering, and backsliding in verses, served with a pinch of what my Southern ancestors would’ve said. Thank you for joining me on the journey.

You can purchase your copy here.

Poetry: 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.

 

**Author’s Note: I read the statistic in my first line in a book that changed the way I fought PTSD, The Body Keeps the Score. And that statistic made me desperate to change my life, to heal, and to be stronger than anything else that came for us. Now, I like to think about the strong phoenix women who are raising even stronger women as we show them that we come back more formidable than before.

Poetry: Odin

While I have been quite vocal about my struggle with PTSD following a break-in and attack, I haven’t mentioned one of the most surprising changes in my life since last October. I have fur children now. They came with the boyfriend, and I was not at all sure about having dogs. I’m almost certainly destined to be a cat lady. I have a library. I like cardigans. I know how to knit. I’m their kind!

IMG_20200821_090701835But Odin, this giant German Shepherd who’s almost my height when he jumps up, began guarding me when he met me. I didn’t know that’s what he was doing, but he laid in front of the doors of the rooms I was in. And then he laid in front of the spots I sat down in. And he slept on my side of the room between me and the door. All of that was enough to endear him to me, whether or not I ever showed affection like normal dog people. You know who you are, baby-talking, pet-cuddling dog lovers.

My significant other knew I was a lost cause when he found me cuddled around Odin, using him for a giant pillow because he’d taken up post, guarding me again. What I didn’t know is that Odin had been alerting my boyfriend when I was having panic attacks. (I frequently hide away where I feel safe and where my children won’t see me falling apart.) And Odin nudges and yips at my boyfriend, shepherding him to where I am, when I have panic attacks. He’s not a medical dog. He’s not been trained. He’s just one smart, caring creature. And he’s making me feel safer and cared for, even though I was deeply skeptical. So, naturally, he got his own poem.

Odin

My reluctant, four-legged guardian watches over me,

my own foo dog at the steps of the temple.

He’s certain I’m terrible at protecting myself.

So, resigned,

he’s at my bedside,

then nosing me down the stairs,

shepherding me to the rest.

I can tell he thinks I don’t know how to belong to a pack.

And I didn’t ask for a guardian,

but I feel the weight of his judgment.

“Look, Odin, I only just had a pack choose me back.”

 

He chuffs, sure that my brain is broken,

because he doesn’t know about hearts.

But his presence is something I can bet on,

his waiting by the window is sure

…when I have gotten used to everyone leaving.

 

 

 

Poetry: Brain Drain

As a Southerner, I’ve balanced systemic racism and my knowledge of what’s right my entire life. And some of the most heinous words I’ve ever heard are: “This is how it’s always been.” Those six words are what an older generation tells you when you question why things are set up unfairly. Those are the words put up to hinder progress.

In Mississippi, the state I was raised in, there’s a concept called “brain drain”. Intelligent people leave the state in droves. Like rats leaving a sinking ship. And commissions have been set up to analyze why. Intelligent people give intelligent responses to the problem that no one wants to hear. And we’re so outnumbered by ignorant masses who would rather we just left. And so we do.  And that’s the crux of the matter. Intelligent people are a minority in the South, and they will be driven out, unless they are protected. To address the brain drain, Mississippians have to reconsider their treatment of minorities as a whole.

As I contemplated the problem again while I battled insomnia last night, I kept thinking how people said my education ruined me. And this is what I wrote.

Brain Drain

 

“Education ruined her.”

That’s what they said about me.

“We don’t need nobody with book learnin’.”

So, I decided to leave.

 

I let the pages teach me

what no Mississippian would.

That old white men can only rule the world if we keep electing them.

That there are no less-than-humans.

That Jesus doesn’t kick mixed people out of church for not being born white enough.

That separate is never equal.

 

“Education ruined her.”

That’s what they said about me.

“Those liberal colleges indoctrinated her.”

But universities attract what they seek.

 

“She thinks she knows more than us.”

And what if I definitely do?

I noticed the bad statistics and flawed logic permeating the arguments.

Did you?

 

I spoke for justice, for equality, for change.

But my voice didn’t carry over the roar of opinion.

My facts fell before men who called me strange.

Ignorance is as good as knowledge in their dominion.

 

I let education ruin me.

You should do the same.

Hell and High Water: Deleted Scene

I was ruthless with my lines when I edited Hell and High Water.  If I thought a poem wasn’t ready yet or wasn’t good enough, it didn’t make the cut.  These poems have become the deleted scenes of my book. “What I Miss” didn’t make the cut because it was new and not really edited into something I was proud of yet. I’ve done some more editing since.

In most relationships I’ve had, I’ve missed things unique to the person who was no longer there after a breakup, and I don’t know how to hold grudges. So, this poem was born.

What I Miss

Arms wrapped around me at 2AM.

Soft whispers of “It’s okay”.

My trembles subsiding like a child’s after a nightmare.

Your body fitting mine in a perfect nest of spoons.

A hand held out to me–

for a walk, on a car ride, at dinner–just because.

Inappropriate jokes told no matter who listened,

as long as a smile was dragged to my lips.

The quest for French fry perfection.

How you didn’t let go of me first.

Iron Spirits: Silver Linings

I’ve begun writing Iron Spirits, the book following my debut novel, Iron Shards. I’m a little bit exhausted today and not sure I will meet my daily writing goal. (The photo is my half-filled coffee mug from my alma mater. Iced lattes are fueling these pages.) I’ve set a breakneck pace–3,000 words a day–to get the latest book out to you guys this fall. You’ve certainly waited long enough. Thanks for hanging in here with me.

Insomnia has not been kind to me these last ten months, and authors don’t actually live charmed lives. (Even if that’s the picture we’d like to paint.) If you’ve looked at my poetry or my posts regarding PTSD, then you’ll know that my struggle persists. Insomnia is a common PTSD symptom; my body thinks it’s always under attack, and that doesn’t do wonders for sleep. I also need a second surgery because my nasal passages are still partially blocked after my nose was broken. And for quite a few reasons, it’s currently on hold.

The silver lining to all of this is that I write amazing traumatized characters. I know the things people do when they’ve seen death, been attacked, gone through an accident. I know what they’ll do immediately after and a month later. So, I’m penning an authentic moody, traumatized teen. But, at times, I don’t even like him much, even if I am certain he’s behaving exactly like he should be. (Think Harry Potter Book 5.)

But he’s on a journey, too, and I’m looking forward to sharing bits of his story in Iron Spirits soon.

Poetry: Hyperacusis

I used to watch all of Marvel’s movies. They were a shut-up-and-take-my-money situation. And you could bet that I would read or watch most things involving super powers, mutations, or human evolution. I found it fascinating. I remember one show that depicted super hearing as part-super power, part-curse.

And I can confirm the part-curse bit. Since the break-in and attack last year, I can’t turn the world down. My therapists say it’s a PTSD symptom: hypervigilance, hyperacusis. And sometimes it’s hell. I don’t watch those movies anymore without my kids pleading to watch together, noise cancelling headphones, a drink in my hand, and subtitles. My kids pre-open their candy so that the plastic doesn’t crinkle next to me. We’ve all changed our lives in little ways to co-exist. I wear the headphones and run four miles a day, sometimes sequestering myself when the day has been a bit too loud. They tone it down when I cringe at something like cabinets closing in the kitchen. Today’s poem details living with this super-curse.

Hyperacusis

I think someone is hitting our counter.

And I ask you to check downstairs.

And I’m so sure I’m right.

I argue until you show me…

that the sound only happens when the dog breathes out.

 

YouTubers blaring that we should “smash that button”

make me want to smash my eardrums.

I can’t think around it.

 

I flinch when you hammer a stud into place.

And I’m back against a door with it splintering around me,

buying my family more time.

 

So, you find me now before you hammer, drill, nail, sew,

decibel warnings far below the prescribed level litter our days.

You hand me noise cancelling headphones

like a life ring for the drowning.

 

And I hold on.

 

I ask you each time, “Will it ever get better?”

And you always say yes.

I don’t care if it’s truth or a lie

or only what you believe.

It’s enough.

Where Angels Can’t Follow: Chapter 2

“When it comes to art, it’s important not to hide the madness.”—Atticus

The forks clinked against the plates as we ate in silence. When my belly’s full of fried veggies and meat, I have to acknowledge that it’s bratty not to change a few light bulbs without feeling put upon. And my guilt deepened as I realized my attention’s been divided between the spiral I sent Kiah into and the angel girl in my mind, none of it on Marge. My eyes drifted to the New Orleans Daily newspaper lying on the table.

Statue Smashers Strike St Louis Number Three

The angels that once perched atop mausoleums for St. Francis’s Abbey and the Milleneaux Family tombs have been sledged off their bases. According to our source, the statues “weren’t just knocked down; they were beaten into dust!” (See p. C7 for rest of story)

Marge followed my gaze and opined, “Can you imagine what sorta lowlife goes ‘round smashing statues on people’s final resting places?” She clucked. “I just don’t know what’s got into people.”

I nodded my agreement and was looking for words when Marge continued, “I saw the old home director at the store today.”

I nod. What’s there to say? No love had been lost between Team Kiah and Nate and the New Orleans Home for Wayward Children. It actually says that on the sign. Kiah and I didn’t start out there, but when we both were placed there, we raised hell until we found our way out.

“How’s she doin’?”

“She asked about you and Kiah. Said she still thinks taking your GEDs and moving out was a mistake.”

“Dead horses we gotta keep beating.”

“Now, speaking of Kiah, don’t you think it’s about time she started acting like a girl? Made some girl friends?”

I tried not to choke on my food as her abrupt subject change left me reeling. She slapped me on the back, and I finally eked out some words, “Oh, no! You’re not dragging me into this! There’s no way I am getting involved in a Kiah—Grace dispute. There’s no winning that one.”

“Well, of course, it can be won. Don’t be ridiculous. You just have to encourage her to go to a few places where she could actually meet the right kind of girls, you know?”

Little did she know, Kiah would love to meet the right kind of girls. Just not that kind. “Uh-huh. I see. My answer is still no. I’m not gonna be responsible for my business partner getting dragged to places that make her miserable.”

Marge looked like she wanted to grab me by my ear and force my cooperation on Operation Cinderella. But we don’t have any fairy godmothers here, just the Hatters and one opinionated teenage girl.

“Well, if you ain’t gonna help with Kiah, let’s talk about the hunk of rock taking up half my garage space.”

The women in my life really know how to press my buttons. I stalled with bites of food.

“What do you want to discuss?” I finally asked.

“Are you gonna move it somewhere else? Are you gonna carve it? If so, what are you carving?” Clearly, the questions had built up while I was gone. “Oh, and did you figure out who delivered it? And why?”

“Whoa. One at a time. I haven’t planned to move it. Do you really need me to? And, yes, I think I am gonna carve it.”

I thought maybe a few answers would suffice, but Marge sat there waiting for the rest of them. She locked her steely, knowing eyes on mine.

“You know darned well that I can outwait you, Nate. And that pie I made earlier’s gonna wait, too, if you don’t answer my questions.”

I know when I’ve been outmaneuvered. Kiah and the Hatters have been working me into whatever plots they’ve had for a year now. And they know about one of my serious weaknesses—food.

Sighing, I answered, “I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m gonna carve an angel of sorts.”

Her smile carved deeper creases around her eyes and mouth, but the light of her approval warmed me already. “An angel! How wonderful! I can’t wait to tell the girls. Ooooh! Something divine in my garage!” She clapped her hands together, before drawing up short. “I have one concern though—she’s gonna be wearing clothes, right? This ain’t gonna be like that poster in your room, is it?”

Here we go again.

“Now, Marge. I already told you. There’s nothing weird about those posters. If anything, there’s something kinda nerdy about them. That naked statue that so offends you is Michelangelo’s David. The others are his work, too. There’s nothing obscene about it. It’s art!” I waved my arms around for emphasis, punctuating the last word in my exasperation.

I still hadn’t answered the question, and she mulishly crossed her arms, waiting for my answer.

“No, she’s not gonna be naked! Christ!” I ducked as Marge swatted at me with the newspaper for taking the Lord’s name in vain. “Ack! Lay off, Marge. Seriously. She’ll have clothes.”

Still clutching the paper, but the tension gone from her brows, she went to grab the chocolate pie as I wondered what kind of clothes she thought should appear on an angel. She’s happy about the clothing situation now, but she doesn’t know that I’ll basically be carving Sarah Connor with wings. The thought of her shock sweetened the chocolate in my mouth even more, and I savored my pie as I thought about the spiky blades protruding like porcupine quills on my angel’s thighs and arms.

I listened to the nuances of working in a new medium in Sculpture 2. Mrs. Carmichael droned about the benefits of working in clay and the disadvantages. I am more of a doer than a listener though, always have been, and I fidgeted with the ball of clay before me. I can’t let it go, pounding the piece between my palms, and my hands are operate independently of my mind, stroking and shaping the ovoid piece into an unusual teardrop. My fingertips pinched the rounded edges, adding rounded steps to the project, and I barely heard Mrs. Carmichael in the background as the other students began rolling their clay.

I should be worried about my instructions, but I find no space for that in my head. I only saw filaments, fibers, details of the wing. I etched the details into the outline I’ve made, the foundation for my project. I scraped with my scalpel and a tiny pick to get each filament, each feather to match the picture in my mind. I should quit. I should apologize for zoning out and find out what’s going on, but I can’t.  I didn’t want to. I wanted to practice, I wanted to see my angel finished. I needed to bring her into my world. I looked up and saw the rest of the students trying to make a basic bowl shape. I could press my clay into a hollow hemisphere. I could have still gone back, but I didn’t. I etched and fluffed the clay ridges until I have a wing. And I never learned to etch or fluff. I am more than inspired. I am driven, compelled to carve. I would say that I’m possessed of a mad angel-sculpting spirit, but who does that? That’s crazier than needing to sculpt. But I couldn’t break the wing beneath my palm. I already love her.

My reverie broke as a classmate bumped into me. The other students were filing out, and Mrs. Carmichael stared at me and my work. “What are you doing?” she asked, kindly demanding some explanation for my deviation.

“I don’t know,” I mumbled, my pulse racing as I was caught. “I just couldn’t get it out of my head.”

She didn’t give me the you’re-a-psycho look I expected though. Instead, she kindly patted my hand and her eyes filled with sympathy. “I know what you mean. I get things in my head, and I can’t sculpt anything else either. It is weird that you chose wings though.”

There it was. An acknowledgement of my inherent oddity.

She looked at me suggestively. “Would you like to see my studio?”

Curious, and more than a little cautious, I nodded my assent and scooped up my books as I cradled the wing. Is she hitting on me? I haven’t gotten any creepy vibes off of this woman before, but Kiah and I have learned the hard way that not every threat exudes violence. I towered over my petite teacher. I shouldn’t feel threatened, but I can’t shake the ominous feeling, that sense of inevitability as defining moments lurk around a corner we can’t glimpse.

We walked across the campus, in a mostly uncomfortable silence, the tension rising. I could practically hear the violins shrieking in my skull, goosebumps warning me that nothing was normal here.

An old brick building’s first floor housed the instructors’ studio, and I was prepared to see abstract pieces, nudes like David, and huge canvases, scribbles of ideas on scraps of paper. Instead, I was surprised by the number of instructors all working at the same time. Don’t y’all take time off? And then I saw the four artists in this room were shaping, sketching, painting—a room crowded with angels.

“Welcome to the Angel Guild,” she joked.

“The Angel Guild?”

“I’m afraid that you know what I mean. You were approached by the Valkyries about getting justice for someone you love, right? And, all of a sudden, you’re fixated on one project. And not just the image, the inspiration, but on how you should do it. What material, what size. You know it all, don’t you? And it’ll culminate in a marble angel.”

I stood there, dumbfounded as she told me parts of my new life story.

“Kind of.”

“And your marble’s been delivered?”

I grew cold with horror as her confounding knowledge chilled me. “Uh-huh.”

She pushed her chunky hipster glasses up the bridge of her nose. “You’d best stick with us. Not everyone will understand what you’re going through.”

I couldn’t believe that she will either. I wanted to ask if her marble pulses, if it’s alive. But I’ve concealed my obsession so far.

“Is this some kind of joke? I didn’t get a ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ offer from a—did you say, ‘valkyrie’?”

I knew my tone was biting, but I don’t like being pranked.

“It’s not a joke. And I’ve never heard of the Inspiration not coming from Valkyrie class angel, a Fury, or one of the Four. You might want to check the skepticism at the door. We are the only ones who will believe you, no matter what, over the coming weeks and months. You can carve here, or wherever you’d like. I just thought you should know that you’re not alone.”

The other sculptors chipped away at the stone. Clink, clink. But they were watching me, too.

The closest one put her chisel down.

“I’m Anna Kemp.” She introduced herself with a pained smile.

“Nate Jacoby.”

And the greeting continued around the room with Paul Stanton, Grant Miller, and Howard Trent, barely allotting time for nods and registering my name. Whatever this place is, I didn’t want to be there. After the clipped hellos from the men, I backed away from the circle of materials ringing the room. I nearly took out an easel with my backward march, but I didn’t belong. Maybe I’m full of the naivete of youth, but I’m not ready to lie down and give in to divine inspiration.

Do you hear that, Muses? I won’t carve just because you say sculpt. Nathaniel Forrest Jacoby is no one’s lapdog.

And I sprinted through the sultry air burning my lungs. I sprinted clear off of campus and didn’t stop in the neutral ground for the streetcar like I planned. I don’t have time to wait, to pause, to reflect. Because I know things I didn’t before. Whether inspiration is divine or not, it’s real, and my angel didn’t spring from my own mind.

Hell and High Water: Last Sneak Peek

Here is a final excerpt from Hell and High Water before it’s published on August 25th.

After my last couple of poems, some of you might have been thinking you should check on me. And that’s sweet. But my life isn’t fraught with violence anymore, even if it’s got PTSD filtering its moments. And the hellish panic attack days have their bright spots,  their hope stains.

Hope Stains

I once spilled the enzyme that causes firefly bioluminescence on a lab table.

You are like that,

golden light on my black.

 

I’ve always loved glimpsing streetlights from an airplane window.

You are like that,

hope shining at your edges.

 

And when you go, waves of ink lap at me, bidding me to wade in.

I choose the dark before it drags me under.

But I’ve still got these hope stains.

 

Poetry: Worth It

Sometimes I think about how all of the circumstances align for us to meet someone at the right time. I’m grateful for my current set of unlikely occurrences. I live with PTSD, so I’ve been deeply skeptical that happy endings are possible and yet stubborn enough to look for them anyway.

Worth It

Did I have to feel the chasm spreading in my bed?

Did I need to struggle raising three oh-so-close-together nerdlings alone?

Did I have to learn not to flinch when a fist went through the wall inches from my face?

Did I need to watch retreating backs

as I hyperventilated my way through panic attacks?

Did I have to go on so many blah, how-do-I-leave first dates?

Was that really the shortest path to you?

If so,

it was worth it.