Where Angels Can’t Follow: The Playlist

I listen to music when I write novels; I need it to tune out the rest of the world. I began Where Angels Can’t Follow a few years ago, but didn’t complete it and get through the editing until this year. So, this playlist is a bit more scattered than usual, but here are the songs that remind me of the world I wrote and the characters in it.

  1. “Mercy” by Muse. (I absolutely could not have finished this book without this song. My local coffee shop had a gaggle of women in it one day, and they were deafening when I’d planned to knock out a chapter. I bought this song, and it became my tune-people-out song for the novel.)
  2. “Little Monster” by Royal Blood.
  3. “I’ll Follow You” by Shinedown.
  4. “Saint Cecilia” by Foo Fighters.
  5. “Unsteady” by X Ambassadors.
  6. “Hurricane” by The Band of Heathens. (This song felt so New Orleans to me.)
  7. “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” by Johnny Cash.
  8. “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay.
  9. “Save Me” by Remy Zero.
  10. “Praying” by Kesha. (This one reminded me of Medusa. That’s all I’m saying.)
  11. “Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage.
  12. “Trip Switch” by Nothing But Thieves.
  13. “Hallowed Ground” by Bishop Briggs.
  14. “Way Down We Go” by Kaleo.
  15. “My Church” by Maren Morris.  (I could hear Kiah singing this to annoy Grace.)
  16. “Anthem of the Angels” by Breaking Benjamin.

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

IMG_20200723_144419738
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.