Li Ji FVR Issue VI

 PTSD Poems to Slay Demons in Li Ji FVR Issue VI

Tin Man

Was it a dream, a bump on the head, or true love, this? In the center of the cyclone two hearts as big as houses were swept up in that first kiss, spellbound and smitten by those lusty/rusty lips.

Swept away and up so high over the rainbow Tin Man and I flew until we crashed, smashed to bits on an emerald sidewalk slaked with green grit. There, he crushed my pretty, little heart in his stolen, steely grip. My ruby red lust turned to ice as he cut me paper thin and folded me in pieces to grope my wind-stung skin.

With oily moves so masterful, so shiny and relentless what could I do, an orphan in a threadbare, gingham dress?

With a head spun full of straw and sticks my body welded to his anvil hips spread like candy across the yellow bricks. As the macho, manly, bastard sang that age-old “nympho-slag-slut” slang I became his bitch, his wicked witch until I clicked my heels three times and told that hunk of metal, “Please, I don’t mind.”

All that wild night, red-light, green-light … endless

his fickle fists, his cold caress . . .

lost in a bubble I floated wounded, wan and witless.

For twenty years I bore his blame awash in shame until a world of witches blared my truth thundered in headlines, Twitter, TV, too. Everywoman’s tale told in 60-point wonder: time’s up, sisters, it’s him, not you. Not me? Why not? Because #@MeToo.

And then I knew these Tin Men they don’t want our hearts just to rip our fucking souls apart.

Tin Men, screw you.


Them’s Fightin’ Words

Tell me why, my tin star, lover guy, we awake to clear and blessed dawns skin-to-skin with the safety on and you kiss me, hard.
As we tumble bullet-free through fevered musk your breath burns our blistering bullshit crisp and the milkweed wisps of last night’s railings are forgotten dust in the wind.

Until my touch sparks a revenant and once again I’m facing down tombstone eyes deep as the grave gunning for me to start another round. We’re back in the loop, high noon at the “we’re-not-OK Corral” with Annie Oakley and Wild Bill locked and loaded for another go-round.

So take your cheap shots, your pot-shots, your please-take-it-back shots. Paint a bull’s-eye on my heart fire off them fightin’ words hit the mark and break me apart. Dress me up in her finery swing me from that hanging tree you’ve strung up in her memory.

Maybe, cowboy, I’ll roll like a tumbleweed happy to dance on your grave.
But before you fire another round check your aim and line up your sights, gunslinger.
I’ve got a Bowie knife and a Colt 45 with her name etched on every bullet.
I’ll cut her down to size, face down all six-foot-four of you, bury that woman in your churlish blues and see her six feet under. Then dead or alive all you’ll see is me.

I will be the wanted one
with my face, my name
posted in black and white
on our bedroom wall.

Interview with Robin Harvey in FVR Issue VI

Introduce yourself; when did you begin writing? When and why did you decide you wanted to share your work with others?

I came from what many would call a horrific childhood. I grew up to become an actor, dancer, teacher, journalist and now, I hope, a decent poet. But I never decided to share my work. That’s always been a part of who I am. My big sister taught me to read a few months before I turned four. I started writing at about age five. By first grade, the school librarian bought me a scrapbook for my poetry and illustrations. In third grade, I wrote and performed plays, made sculptures and art, and wrote poetry, all shared with my school. What’s the point of creating if you don’t share it?

Where do your inspirations come from? Are they musical, literary, ekphrastic or all three?

All three and more. Over my life, I have sketched, painted, taken photographs, acted, danced, and always written. My twisted childhood and genetic legacy inspired the first half of my recent poetry collection about a girl who came to urban, working-poor Toronto, via small-town Newfoundland and was raised by creative, artistic parents with mental-health and substance-abuse demons. My inner-city school designated me as gifted, so I enjoyed creative enrichment programs and read incessantly; the classics, mythology, archaeology and astronomy fascinated me as a kid. I reference symbols and imagery from these throughout my work. Programs in art, sculpting, pottery, music, movement, writing and track-and-field helped me escape my abusive home. At age 10, I’d flee the chaos, hop the subway and hit the museum or art gallery to hang until closing time, drawing and taking notes. I left home at 16 to save my sanity and went to university on a scholarship aiming for a fine arts honour’s degree. By 17, my first mental breakdown forced me to drop out. A few years later, when stable, I studied acting, movement and dance while freelance writing and working as a remedial tutor. Eventually I became a journalist for the city’s daily newspaper. There I wrote about homeless people, pimps, sex workers, and how we mistreat people with mental illness and the frail elderly. All of these were inspirations.

There is one important thing I owe to my parents. My first language was their Newfinese, a patois of Irish, Gaelic and Cornish that still echoes throughout my poetry.

With regards to this issue, how does your poetry link to the themes of courage, power and evil/temptation?

The tale of Li Ji’s sacrifice and plan to vanquish the power-mad serpent speaks to me on many levels. I am in awe of her choice to be a warrior, to throw off the cultural constraints imposed on her sexuality as the “sacrificial virgin,” to defeat evil. Courage and self-sacrifice were the way she stayed true to herself and those she loved. When she sees the bones of the nine sacrificed maidens and wonders if they should have fought, I’m haunted. My childhood was brutal and sexist, and I am a survivor of physical, emotional and sexual assault. When I was nine, in a drunken blackout, my father tried to strangle me. I spit in his eye and told him to murder me because at least then he’d no longer torment my family. (That shook him back to reality.) It was an easy sacrifice at the time as I could endure no more abuse. Still, the abuse continued until he sobered up long after I left home. When I was kidnapped and gang raped, I was a mother who chose to succumb to the evil so I might escape to live for one who needed me. I still wonder should I have fought? Was my sacrifice worth it? Did its impact damage my child? Li Ji also wondered.

Living with PTSD means daily inner battles, courage and honesty, to fight the temptation to give in and numb myself. It’s much easier to lie to yourself rather than confront the evil part of you still believe is within to love yourself. I’ve seen and experienced much evil in my personal life and, as a journalist. Though I try to see complexity behind injustice, entitlement and privilege, I see greed and fear as the root causes. I believe, however, we all must choose to believe in humanity’s goodness because only that will fuel our courage and ensure our survival.

How would you describe your writing process?

I have PTSD and a type of OCD where music is always playing in the back of my head, looping lyrics or notes through my thoughts, an oft-annoying, intrusive soundtrack to my life. Creative expression is my distraction and escape. When I write I am sucked in and so hyper-focused, I hear nothing. The roof could fall in, my son says, and I’d still be writing. My mind never shuts up so I’m always jotting snippets in notebooks as poems bubble up. Some poems write themselves. Others struggle for years to fruition. What’s hardest for me is to narrow my focus to catch the poem “snippets” so they can land and grow.

You recently published a poetry collection titled PTSD Poems to Slay Demons, how would you describe this collection to anyone yet to read it?

The book, PTSD Poems to Slay Demons, reflects my journey to overcome, heal from and live with trauma. It also reflects humanity’s struggle in an increasingly traumatic world. I think the book embodies survival and hope and believe we can all survive to thrive.

What was your favourite poem from this collection to write and why?

That’s unfair to ask, like asking a parent their favourite child. I love and hate them all. If I had to pick today, I’d say Fly Bye-Bye, Mean Girls. That started when I kept hearing the rhythm of girls skipping Double-Dutch. My parents often dumped me outdoors with my big sister for hours. She was a great skipper. I was four years younger and terrible so I got picked on. That memory of the skipping rope sound created the poem.