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.

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.

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.

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.