Sunbathing in Cemeteries Book Signing

I loaded up my minivan with my family and boxes of books, the detritus of road trips defying my boxes and tote bags as water bottles, chargers, candy wrappers, and things-we-desperately-need cluttered the floorboards. I was returning to my hometown for a Pies and Poetry event at Mayders and Tayders fruitstand. I get anxious as I cross into Mississippi, like it’s quicksand that I’ll get sucked into and never escape from casseroles, supersaturated sweet teas, and church invitations. That’s not to say that the South doesn’t have its charms. I can’t help but love the magnolias that line the highways at the state line. And I don’t think I can get the red clay out of my soul. The pine trees feel like home to me, even when I desire biodiversity and know there’s not much but pines. The Southern accent slips back into my mouth, whether I mean for it to or not, and my Minnesotan husband catches only about half of my words and less than that from the natives.

And, yes, they did remark, “He ain’t from ’round here, is he?” My pageant smile fell into place. And I forced air that sounded like a laugh out of my lungs. “No,” I joked, “I had to find him on the other end of the Mississippi River.”

I ate key lime pie with my kids, and they sampled the cheesecake, too. Aiden, my eldest, watched me like he’s never really seen me before. I usually exist in the silence and the gray tones of rain clouds. And he was watching me in the colorful walls with people who came out to support a local author and chat with an outlier. I took my anxiety meds before people walked in; PTSD has me watching every move from every person, and it’s a lot to process. I still felt my energy deplete like a cheap battery in a couple of hours. I was happy to catch up with friends and family, but it’s difficult for an introvert with PTSD–a bit like deciding to do a marathon after having knee replacement surgery.

I know the effort is worth it when I hear people with PTSD telling me they feel like someone else understands when they read my words. And I thoroughly enjoyed listening to rich laughter as the tiny town’s only black female minister laughed at my oh-so-real poetry before she bought copies. I, too, felt seen. Female ministers and female atheists are not that different in a small Southern town. We share an otherness and curiosity, a reckless abandon about public perception.

When I walk into book signings, I have a moment before anyone arrives that feels like standing on the ledge of a pit, right before I rappel into an abyss. What if no one shows up? What if they show up and hate my work? What if they show up and heckle me? I breathe and remember an anecdote that Neil Gaiman shared on imposter syndrome. He said:

“Some years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.

On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”

And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”

And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.”

And I remember I am in good company with the Neils. And I do my job–talking about books, writing, and the things that inspire me.

Sunbathing in Cemeteries

I did a thing. I finally clicked publish on my latest poetry book, Sunbathing in Cemeteries. It’s been about two years in the making as I have lived through the aftermath of domestic violence and my own PTSD. This book explores those issues and tangential ones–motherhood, the South, and dating after a divorce. (Dating after a divorce with PTSD and a fairly high ghost rate the second I mentioned kids.) I have always woven scientific metaphors into my work, but there were more in this volume than in Hell and High Water. When I chose not to dilute the metaphors, I added footnotes in a few places.

This book is called Sunbathing in Cemeteries because it’s the best way to describe my frame of mind as I published these poems. I woke up and took steps to get me closer to medical school every day, sometimes appalled that the world didn’t stop with me and that the sun kept rising when I felt dead. I kept moving forward, deciding that if I am going to exist in this cemetery of who I used to be, then I can at least sunbathe in it. I adore ironic juxtaposition, and I keep imagining myself with a lounger, a hot pink bikini, floppy sun hat, and cocktail with an umbrella, tanning in an old and deeply Gothic cemetery. Things might get better, they might not, but I am determined to live my best life, wherever I am in the healing process.

On a personal note, I have been mentally meandering this summer as I took time off from my pre-med work to address my own health issues, get some of my art out into the world, and travel with my awesome kids. I don’t know if any of you suffer from PTSD, but I have learned that I definitely cope best with a boring routine. Not having anyone demanding lab reports, papers, or studying for exams has left me aimless for a couple of months. Who would have guessed that the rigors of organic chemistry would provide solace? I never thought I’d long for the drudgery of another chemical mechanism. And if you tell anyone I said such a thing, I’ll deny it vehemently. That said, writing new material and getting it published is occupying the puzzle-sorting part of my mind for now. And I hope you enjoy the latest poetry volume.

–Jessi

Where Angels Can’t Follow: The Blog Tour

Y’all. Where Angels Can’t Follow will be released tomorrow! This has been a long journey for me. And every time I look over the lines, I am excited to share them with you. I can’t wait for you to meet these hilarious characters who walked into my mind and wouldn’t quit telling their stories.

We’re on our second week of the blog tour, and the lineup was arranged with YA Bound Book Tours. I’m really excited about the new content released in some of today’s posts. Here are today’s stops:

  • Daily Waffle is also featuring Where Angels Can’t Follow today. You can find a teaser scene between Nate and Kiah here, showing her unique ideas on revenge.
    https://www.dailywaffle.co.uk/2020/09/book-tour-where-angels-cant-follow-by-jessi-kallison/

    And at all of these stops you can register for a giveaway of my complete works–Iron Shards, Hell and High Water, and Where Angels Can’t Follow. (The copies of Where Angels Can’t Follow are ARCs as it hasn’t been released yet.)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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