Trauma is pre-verbal, according to The Body Keeps the Score. It is inarticulate, cannot be uttered. My pen has been my sword for cutting through the terror, how I have stood my ground in the face of death. It's how I've spoken what I know to be most true, over and above the awful facts of my circumstance.
Truth and beauty are how we fight against the darkness.
Here are my "cancer poems". I want to share them in hopes that the things I've been through this year might give some help, some words to someone who could use them.
I'm honored (and rather amazed) to have paintings by artist and dear friend Jodi Hays in this chapbook.
The book itself will be a work of art, a creation designed and printed by David King at Extended Play Press.
If we raise $1500, we can print 100 copies of the book. If we raise more- we can print more! The cost will pay for the book creation, thank Jodi a bit, pay me some. And then there's shipping.
I have this hope that as part of the initial batch and hopefully some more, we can afford to print extras in order to share it with the people who've helped me through. I'd love for my oncologist, my radiologist, my pharmacist, my chemo nurses, my dear friends, to have a copy so that they can see and hear what was going on inside my head during my treatment.
After that- if we go past our Kickstarter goal? It will continue to pay to produce books and pay those of us who have created it. 1 in 8 women in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer. I would love for this to provide words during hurt for some of them and those around them. I'd love to get some copies into some bookstores.
We've also thrown in some other possible goodies. Notably, Jodi is donating three (UPDATE: make that SIX!) original ink drawings. And if someone wants to hear from us in person, Kenny and I will fly to where you are and share some of these poems and the other art we make. We can't promise an "all cancer all night" evening (phew), but I'd be happy to read some of these as well as share some of our songs and hymns.
More of the story below:
One year ago, I left Martha's Vineyard. I had been awarded a grant by the Sustainable Arts Foundation to study poetry at the Martha's Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing- and my friend Flo had, too. We made a road trip of it.
Sustainable Arts Foundation grants are given to artists with young children. While I was on the ferry back to the mainland, I reflected on what a grace it was to have a whole week to hone my writing, make a plan for creative projects this year, and be refreshed. We stayed in the guest cottage of dear people, walked a lot, wrote a lot, ate cheese and fruit and prosciutto and chocolate and drank wine, and learned from fantastic writers.
We spent the day after the Institute on a literary tour with our dear Boston friend Kelly, touring Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House and walking around Walden Pond. When I showered that night, I noticed that my breast was warm and red and puckered. I had noticed this two weeks earlier, but had taken it for summer heat irritation, and then it seemed to go away. I googled my symptoms, and the two possibilities that came up were mastitis and inflammatory breast cancer. As I was no longer nursing, mastitis wasn't an option. I drove to Pennsylvania the next day to get the kids from my parent's house on the way home to Nashville. I tried to stay calm, but decided to go in to the local medical center for a mammogram. Then another. Then an ultrasound.
While I was waiting for the results of my ultrasound, I had a bad feeling. I flipped through a collection of old poetry from my twenties and ran across a metaphor I'd never used, that I'd put into the mouth of God: "I will come like chemo to kill so you can live." Little did I know...
A nurse came in and told me it looked like inflammatory breast cancer. We soon found out it was- a very aggressive cancer. This past year has included biopsies, chemo, ER visits, a double mastectomy, 30 rounds of radiation that completely took my skin off, having my ovaries removed, CT scans, MRIs, blood work, fear, pain, comfort and victories. At the one year mark, things are looking good. No one really ever gives you an "all clear"- but it looks good.
I've faced the past year with a lot of help from doctors, nurses, physical therapists, techs, friends, family and church. And I've become more and more convinced that having a week at Martha's Vineyard to hone my skills was a very intentional grace to prepare me for this year.
Through 102 doctors appointments (and counting...) and a year of hard things, I have written. In waiting rooms, in my bed when I couldn't sleep or was working nausea or sweats, through having my breasts removed... I wrote. It's how I got fears out of my head. It's how I shared what was happening inside of me with people who love me. It's how I mined out the goodness that was inevitably somewhere, in every single day. That's the story I want to share.
Risks and challenges
We have the poems.
We have the paintings.
We have the designer, and he is designing. The biggest challenge? If we happen to sell 1000 or 10,000 books or something, David at Extended Play Press might need to take on an intern for his small business, and we might have to move things back a month or so for production- these are handmade books we're talking about.
- (30 days)