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.

Poetry: Challenge Accepted

One of my friends recently quipped that I’d have to go back to some of my hellish previous circumstances to keep writing beautiful poetry. (Of course, I said, “Hell no. I’ll just keep writing novels.”) And then he suggested that I stop writing poetry if I started writing about lint. Well, you know, my brain wouldn’t let it go. And I was sure I could make even lint interesting. 😀 Here’s the product of that brief poetry exercise. And I don’t think it’s my best work, but I was constrained to the topic of lint.

Zoom In

Nothing is the same

now that you’re here.

Even my lint screen yields tiny clues.

Darker than before.

More sand. More dust.

And dog hair–Sighs–

Layers of dog hair.

And it’s cleaned more often,

you know, before it’s a fire hazard.

If you change something so small as a lint screen,

I wonder what the rest of the world sees.

Hell and High Water: Proofs Are In!

It’s been quite a week here with two sets of proofs arriving within three days! I feel spoiled getting to hold the results of years of writing all at once. And this little book is a rollercoaster of love, failure, PTSD, violence, and the South surrounding me.

Hell and High Water will be available on August 25th. You can pre-order ebooks before then, but the print version goes live on publication day.

Continue reading

Hell and High Water: Round Three

I wrote the poems featured in this book over the course of years. The love, failed relationships, and Southern life parts of my book might feel comfortable, but the PTSD part won’t. “Honey Whiskey” is old, but the wounds are still fresh.

When you’re in an abusive relationship, the violence often escalates over time, and this poem is about one instance in a series of many before I was beaten badly enough to need doctors, police officers, surgeons, and contractors for my house. I know that so many people wonder why a person doesn’t walk away at the first sign of violence, at the first hint of insanity. And there are many reasons, unique to every trauma victim. And it’s usually not a lack of intellect.

There are a few reasons I am so open now about what I endured. One is that I still live with the PTSD symptoms and need my friends and community to be kind when I show up wearing my noise cancelling headphones and don’t remove them for anything. (Honestly, I did consider bedazzling a pair for a formal event last winter.) Our villages can’t help us if we decide to suffer in silence. So, I gave mine the chance to be amazing, and they didn’t disappoint.

Another reason that I didn’t let my outspoken posts about domestic violence and trauma dwindle is that every time I post something real, something raw on social media, a friend of mine will message me privately and confide all of the terrible things she’s living with. So. Many. Brutalized. Women. And we’re all just quietly holding each other up and showing up when we’re needed, the outraged sisterhood activated at every new assault. But I’ve been done with quiet, silent, and comfortable. I’m fine with being a voice that lets women around me know their situation isn’t unique, it’s not insurmountable, and no one has to hide–that we’re not alone in this aggrieved sisterhood. So, here’s a poem from a day that I should have run away and never looked back…and didn’t.

Honey Whiskey

I shiver—loneliness, fear, desire—all war within me.

You shiver, but on an angry frequency.

There’s not much time.

I fumble my shoe and freeze.

Were my ancestors rabbits?

You still see me.

I race to get away.

But you’re a one-man melee.

You snatch a honey whiskey bottle.

Like you, it held sweet fire.

Like me, it shatters.

A florence flask next.

Stout glass, weak throw, dumb luck?

It mars the floor, whole.

I’m gonna be glass like that—unbreakable.

The divots are in my soul.

 

Where Angels Can’t Follow: The Origin

There’s a slightly creepy and definitely weird piece of art on my wall. The print caught my eye at a local festival a few years back, and I bought it because it intrigued me.

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Angel photo by Kathy Hagood at Angel Finger Photography. It’s now displayed on Jessi Kallison’s Wall of Weird.

My kids hated it when I hung it on the wall, but my tastes haven’t gotten less eclectic since. (Sorry, not sorry, nerdlings.)

I obsessed over the details. I wondered why the angel woman was headless and whose much larger hand was on her stomach? Was he human? Another angel? Why was he touching her at all? Was the owner of that hand a good guy? Why would she be a statue? And why would she be a headless statue after that?

I don’t know the real story. But my brain wouldn’t let go of the image and decided to start making up its own story that began with an angel statue. And Where Angels Can’t Follow was born.

Poetry Process

I really admire the poets who can sit down and type exactly what they feel into Word, do some editing there, and then hit publish. My process is not that. Usually, my poems hit me in the early morning or when I am grappling with an issue. I write them all in my journals in ink or pencil first (hell, color pencil or crayon if it’s all I’ve got). Something about actually writing words on a physical page inspires me to look for the exact word that fits how I feel. Of course, the space is also limited, and it’s a pain to change words in ink. So, it’s better to be close to right the first time.

Here’s an example from one I wrote this morning because I decided to spend less time delving into my personal social media. It’s amazing how quickly we can be drawn into tapping “unfriend” and “block” when people get unnecessarily unkind over issues, how quickly our connections to other people dissolve. I decided to spend less time connecting to people who would sever connections at the slightest affront and more time with people who would never let me go.

The one on the left is the first draft, just writing what’s in my head. The one on the right is the second round, being more selective with words and how they are arranged on the lines. I also came up with a working title. You can see that in the second draft, I combined the first lines, spaced things differently, and dealt with one of my persistent errors–tense shifts. Eventually, I’ll come back to this in a few months and see if I still like my word choices and still think it’s good.

Here’s the print version below, just in case you find my handwriting a bit impossible. 😉

Love Cables

I’m shrinking my world down to these four walls.

I had tendrils trailing to the UK,

to Japan, to nearly every united state.

Misty connections that evaporate

if you show a light too brightly on them.

But in these walls…

I can’t chop the tethers.

I can’t burn them.

I can’t dissolve them in my bitterness.

So, I’ll pour myself into what I can’t lose.

This small slice of the world.

These walls. This bed.

Hell and High Water: A Second Glance

One of the things I like about offering previews of poems is getting to provide a bit of context where I wouldn’t otherwise get more than the lines on the page. “Noel” is a poem that is made richer with context.

If you’ve never dated an author, you might be lucky. Authors spend a lot of time in their own heads. And when I am in a relationship, I can see the possible futures branching in all directions, detailed like novel plots. I’m not clairvoyant; they won’t play out exactly like I imagine. (Boy, could I have saved myself some trouble if all of my imaginings were accurate!) But they feel real to me. And many of them are futures I might work toward, fulfilling my own prophecies.

I dreamt after a particularly heart-wrenching breakup that I had a new child who faded from existence in front of me. I dreamt “Noel”. And that dandelion ghost still sticks with me.

Noel

My darling boy with dimples pitting either side of your crescent-chasm grin,

espresso eyes alight with mischief.

My sensitive nerves, the coiled springs under my skin, fill you,

and your hair hints at the overwhelm,

wild in all directions.

You release my hand after your too-short legs clear the Goliath stairs.

You run full tilt at your dad

who wears your grin

and waits with open arms.

You run like he might change his mind

about another round of “Up-Up”.

 

And he has, my poor love.

He unbelieves us.

You scatter before my eyes.

My so-solid boy.

Like you are made of dandelion seeds

and only my stubbornness shields you from an out-of-faith gale.

I fall to my knees.

And you fade.

You were Noel because you were Christmas every day.

 

Hell and High Water: A First Look

I will be sharing a few poems from Hell and High Water as we approach its release on August 25th. Here’s one that almost didn’t make it into the book because I wrote it recently.

 

How Love Is Like the Equator

 

I used to spin the globe,

thinking the boundaries between countries were tangible.

I thought an actual pole pierced the North and the South,

running through the sphere.

Maybe the equator was a magical line of rainbows

bisecting the earth.

 

I used to think the lines you shouldn’t cross

would be well marked, too.

That they’d be in written rules.

And admonitions would be issued before you stepped too close to the edge.

 

But you don’t know when you paddle into Canada.

And you don’t know when you’ve stepped into the unforgivable,

until the gate shuts behind you.

 

 

Hell and High Water

I have been writing poetry for years. I’ve read amazing lines that left me despairing of my ability to match the skill of my favorite poets, awed by the way they bare the truth with only a few words. Mary Oliver, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Pablo Neruda, along with so many others, taught me how to gut punch with the truth and a few lines.

I needed distance from my own poems before I was ready to separate and edit them, making cuts and looking for the most precise word. And I still might not have decided to share my poems. But, recently, I have been on a quest for any verses, any songs that capture the way I feel. And so much lacked depth. I began to wonder if maybe no one was in as much pain as I was. Living with PTSD can be isolating. PTSD on top of a pandemic made me feel singularly desolate. I’m especially interested in eradicating the lies we tell ourselves; in this case, it’s “I’m alone and no one can help me. No one else feels like this.”

Hell and High Water Cover 2So, I’ve decided to release the deepest and darkest words I’ve got. They aren’t pretty. They aren’t nice. They are concise. My poetry is a blend of Southern drawls, the fusion of science and art, and a whole lot of pain with a few glimmers of happiness. It’s not for the faint of heart. But I’m sharing it in case anyone else is on my dark path and thinks they are walking alone. If you’re heartbroken, read the whole thing. If you think you’re the poster child for PTSD, try “Fallacies” and “Ripples”. And then notice that “The Inverse” and “Benediction” follow those. I can’t hold everyone’s hand through panic attacks, but I can offer a sense of community and hope.

Hell and High Water will soon be available for pre-order and will be released on August 25, 2020.  (It’s a bit of a pandemic surprise for me, too.)