Back to Writing/Life Update

I am back to my writing–finally. The pandemic was a terrible time for so many people, but for me it was a chance to heal. Just a few months after my attack, the whole world shut down. And the expectations that I would be able to pick up my life as it was disappeared. I’m more grateful for covid lockdowns than most people. I thrived in the isolation with my family and my hobbies and work.

I often tell my daughter that people can be more than one thing. And I have been furiously working to be many things–author, mother, and medical doctor. I went back to school during the lockdown, and it’s been a wild ride. (Everyone needs a biology degree and chemistry minor along with a medical degree to accompany their English degrees, right?) My poetry has become more infused with science than ever–who else is going to write about DNA cleaving enzymes and people that are like ligase? At my core, I want to heal people, physically when they need it and with stories when their minds need a refuge. The little explosion turning my wheels is knowing that people feel less alone when they read truths laid bare by people like them.

And people I meet usually want to put me in a little box that says “Author” or “Aspiring Doctor”. But I’m not having it. Both sides of a brain can work and make beautiful art.

I received rave reviews on my latest poetry book from beta readers and am still reading it, searching for errors that will haunt me if I publish them. And I worked on creating my own cover. I don’t know if you adore ironic juxtaposition, but I do. And poetry books so often have big blocky titles that scream “High Literature”. I just can’t take myself that seriously. I could be the poet laureate and that wouldn’t happen. Or they have the face of a well known, beloved poet. That’s when you’ve made it, right? When you put your face on a poetry book and people think it’s natural? I’m looking at you, Mary Oliver and Nikki Giovanni. But my little book is full of contradictions, the kind that Southerners know about, the sorts that run society and confuse non-natives. So, I put my title in swirly romance novel font with a Gothic cemetery in the background. It’s not a mistake. I want you to feel as jarred as I did, too stubborn to die, but furious that ordinary beautiful things like sunrises kept happening.

And if you’re looking for more of that deliciously Southern ironic juxtaposition with a streak of science, Hell and High Water is on sale for $0.99.

Poetry: Winter Solstice 2021

Context:

This poem is a wish that the universe would take care of justice for me. I’ve been handed a few glorious moments over the years, moments I felt that the Fates were spinning my villains into the corner they deserved and offering me a window to see. For the record, my husband says that the best revenge is a life well lived. And he’s right. But sometimes I still curse my attacker on my bad days.

My attacker’s court date got pushed back, and it’s been years already. So, I wait. And I recently had what I hope is the final surgery to fix the physical damage from the attack. It was a rough one.

Winter Solstice 2021

Does the frost lick your veins like the post-op splints tickle my nose?

Just a little too cold, a little too painful to sleep.

Does the darkness blend into your shot-in-the-dark soul?

I raise another glass, hoping your nights are long and that you forget the wonder of the galaxy. (It’s you who gobbles nanometers.)

I hope you live in the winter solstice and can’t see the fractals in the frost.

I still stand–a tree in the pitch–awaiting morning’s kiss. But I didn’t forget to watch the night undress the light of a thousand stars.

Poetry: Me Too

I wrote this one for all of the women I know that no one believed, whose attackers are free. They privately and publicly fall apart, but I know why. Shattered women live in societies with little justice.

Me Too

I believe you

with your eyeliner cat’s eye,

wine bottle latched to your hand,

goblet neglect.

I trace your hothead Facebook rants,

launching insults with no guidance systems into screens like confetti.

Insanity isn’t a switch.

It’s a stone hitting a windshield and cracks that creep at every stress until the driver can’t see clearly through the shattering.

Poetry: Letting Go

I have been prolific over the past few months and working on a cover for the next new poetry volume. I’ve also been remodeling my house and donating so many things that cluttered my space.

I opened the front closet of doom recently so that I could give the door a new coat of paint. (Do you have a closet of doom? I try not to, but it’s not really a priority. 🤷🏻‍♀️) I had one of those gift wrap/gift bag organizers on the inside of the door. Like an adulty-adult would. And I realized that my gift bag stash is ridiculous. Here’s why:

Letting Go

I learned a secret in my 20s.

You can reuse gift bags.

And I held on to so many.

“I’ll get invited to baby and wedding showers.”

Or so I told myself.

But no one ever tells you there are women who don’t get invited to those events, who are too weird, too awkward, too unaware of what constitutes small talk.

(It’s the weather, isn’t it? I tried that and wound up prattling about lahars.)

I am 33 and trashing all of those bags.

Finally letting go of what isn’t to embrace what is.

Update and Poetry: The Club

October has been an interminable month. It used to be my favorite as I chased down the fall colors, carved pumpkins, and reveled in cardigan and boot weather. I had been dreading the anniversary of my attack and scheduled my book releases and tours to be done before that day hit me.

I tried to block it out with hiking. Mount Rainier, the Smoky Mountains, and other wilderness areas filled my days. I got muddy in caves with my kids. But I’m still me, and the adrenaline still floods me at nightfall, bringing panic attacks and insomnia.

Then, I switched to updating parts of my house. I have steamed wallpaper, patched walls, and left my house in piles of chaotic clutter. It reminds me of being a third of the way through writing a novel. I can see the end in my head, but I’m surrounded by loose threads. And there’s a lot of work to go. Only I can see how it will all work out; I think the rest of the household are humoring me.

I don’t know if you knew, but October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. And I laughed at the bitter irony that I was made indelibly aware of domestic violence in an October. My poems have been darker, like I’ve embraced the month’s black cats, cobwebs, and fishnet stockings and left out the cardigans and pumpkins.

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 deserved your membership.

Poetry: Worse

The anniversary of my attack is looming, a great maw snapping at the smiles and sunshine in my life. I’ve had an uptick in panic attacks, super hearing, and insomnia. I’m operating on caffeine and stubbornness today. It’s enough. This poem was inspired by me asking my significant other if he thinks I’ve gotten worse. Because for some demented reason, I have to know the truth; I have to pry it out like a rotten tooth.

Worse

“You’re getting worse.”
I wrap my arms around myself as far as they’ll go,
protecting my core like your words are hits.
But they don’t keep coming.

I wait for the conditional get-better-now, stop-panicking
receding footsteps.
But there was no or else.
No if-then.

You pulled me closer
as I apologized for more things I can’t help.
I might as well apologize for the rain, too.
And you stop my torrent
like a shut-off valve in the sky.

Poetry: Un-Days

I know that some of my readers are here because of our mutual love of poetry. And the Where Angels Can’t Follow blog tour is not going to speak to that. So, here’s a new poem I wrote yesterday, which was a hard day for me. I didn’t fall into the hole in my calendar, but I did keep busy with random chores, freezing meals to a ridiculous degree (who needs that much spinach lasagna?!), and finishing the day out with a drink. Odin, the German Shepherd who seems to know when my days are difficult, did not leave my side.

Un-Days

The days we used to celebrate

become holes in the calendar.

Stay-away-from-the-edge,

you-might-fall-in days.


Anniversaries that got crossed out–

absent champagne, flowers, and cards.

Birthdays that aren’t

for people that aren’t.

Days when the world stopped

and our lives fell

into a pit disguised as an ordinary day.


It’s a dubious privilege of aging–

learning how to span the shaky debris over those holes.

I’ll tell you my secret:

don’t look down.

Poetry: Paradise

I recently bought last-minute tickets to hike at Mount Rainier National Park. I had never been to the Pacific Northwest, and after I decided that I was done depriving myself of beauty and the things I love, no one could stop me. So, I hopped on a plane to Seattle and was not disappointed.

There’s a section of Mount Rainier National Park called Paradise. I was there, hiking the Skyline loop surrounded by flabbergasting waterfalls, wildflowers, and Mount Rainier when a woman stomped past me on the trail.

Paradise

Have you ever been to dismal towns called Paradise

and thought the founders lacked imagination?

I have.

But this time, the name fit.

The sleeping volcano dominated the landscape.

The wildflowers filled every spot that no one stepped.

Waterfalls fell with such abundance that no one names them all.

And a woman stomped down the trail,

unflabbergasted by the embarrassment of riches.

Some people are angry even in Paradise.

Poetry: False Beliefs

When you begin trauma therapy, one of the first things you tackle is false beliefs–the ideas that somehow everything is your fault or that you deserve anything terrible that happened. (Survivor’s guilt, years of an abuser telling you that you deserve abuse: there are many kinds of trauma that instill those lies in us.) And as the false beliefs and guilt slide away, you learn to be happy again. To me, that alone was anxiety inducing–where is all of the pain I am used to drowning in? The terror I carry with me?

I was creating some of my own misery by not pursuing things I loved, like I was an afterthought who didn’t deserve consideration. I took on everything everyone else wanted and didn’t know how to say no for a long time. And as you can imagine, people don’t like it when you stop yielding. But no one else will say no for you.

Things have clicked into place for me during the isolation of the pandemic. And I’ve reclaimed my time to journal, my time to read, and time to travel and drink in beauty. Of course, that comes at the price of not doing everything everyone else in my life wanted–not doing laundry for my entire family all of the time, not having an immaculate house, not giving a damn what the neighborhood thinks of my yard, and not volunteering with every organization my kids want to be a part of. The pandemic shut everything down so that I got to see what I was adding back, and the answer is almost nothing that I had before. And I like it.

False Beliefs

I believed The Devil over time.

I believed the terrible things he said about me.

And I began to wonder how anyone wanted me.

I believed no one else would.

And if I was so awful,

then maybe I deserved him.

He punched the wall.

I deserved that.

He broke my lamps, doors, dishes.

I deserved that.

He broke me.

I deserved that.

I’ve served my penance in a hundred miserable ways.

I kept words trapped inside of me, un-writing.

I didn’t allow my eyes to roam over the beautiful words

that other broken wordsmiths wrote.

I didn’t let myself venture underground.

No sparkling speleothems to soak in.

I starved myself of beauty.

I deserved that.

And then the angel came along and wanted what’s best for me.

In every way.

He loves my freckles, my scars,

my hellbent-on-success, impossible goal lists,  

my damn-the-torpedoes approach to life.

And I get to put on a sequined shirt, a leather skirt, a hot pink jacket.

To open the books I’d hoarded for when I was good enough.

To write each day like it’s my last, and the ink is endless.

To linger at waterfalls, wildflowers, and gypsum.

To be happy.


I deserve that.

Poetry: Closet Chair

For eleven months now, I’ve had PTSD, following a violent attack, and my panic attacks are not really going away. It’s not a pretty thing that people want to know about or discuss. We’d all really rather I were normal–whatever that word means.

I really like hiding away in my closet when anxiety creeps in. It’s the quietest place in the house, it’s not so bright there either, and I feel safe in the smaller space. I know it’s odd. Just try to explain your habit of freaking out in your closet next to the impractical shoes to someone you might want to date. It makes you really popular, in case you’re wondering. It’s more of a fifth date confession.

My boyfriend really sees who I am in this closet, the good and the bad. And recently he did a beautiful thing; he put a giant beanbag in there for me.

Closet Chair

The beanbag’s overstuffed and too big for its spot–

a chair for you and a bed for me.

Beige microfiber, in full fluff just below the lowest hanger racks.

It cradles my whole body, hugging me when no one else will.

It’s one of the nicest things anyone’s done for me.

You didn’t try to drag me into the light, puffy-eyed and sniffling,

where you could pretend this isn’t happening.

You didn’t impose a timeline on my recovery,

never treating my panic like it’s fleeting.

You pulled up a chair and invited me to be comfortable

while in pain.

Like a spouse settling into a hospital chair to wait out the night,

you settled in like you’d stay.

In the beanbag for two in my closet.