This entire book can be blamed, if you will, on one man.
He is the reason I stepped out into the world and discovered the sides of myself I am now able to share transparently with others. He was the first person waiting with open arms upon my arrival home, eager to learn about places he never dreamed of experiencing himself. He sat with me in the dark corners of bars for late shifts, we shared the stage in the stand-up comedy scene, he worked tirelessly with me to build a successful entertainment company, he helped me articulate new dreams until they were well-rehearsed, and he never stopped supporting me even when time and physical distance were working against us.
He was the first person who ever believed in me as a writer and one of the only people I shared my poetry with. He is the reason I am able to stand confidently as the woman I know myself to be today, and I will forever consider him the first person who showed me how to embody a gracious heart.
Unfortunately, it took Jimmy’s tragic death to finally have the courage to bring this book of poetry to life. In losing him, I was faced with the harsh realization I had become stagnant in the dreams he helped me create, so I worked on breathing life into them again. His death was the thing to bring me back into alignment with my creative goals and emerge the woman he always believed I could become.
This book is for Jimmy as a thank you for everything he did, and continues to do, for me in this life.
The poems are sorted into three sections: Genesis, Foundations, and Emergence. I’ve shared a few anecdotes as to why I settled on these words, which were heavily influenced and indirectly chosen by Jimmy.
Genesis includes my early poetry—as early as 2005 and spans through 2009.
While the word Genesis has biblical affiliations for most, Jimmy redefined it for me one night while we were drinking stale coffee at Denny’s.
It was 2012. Jimmy and I had met a few months prior while performing stand-up comedy. We frequented the same mics and quickly became attached at the hip. He was the first friend I made in adulthood, and I trusted him more than anyone else in my life. I was trying to figure out a name for the karaoke company I was about to purchase and he was helping bounce ideas around. Legacy was a prominent word for me at the time, but it didn’t feel unique enough to what we were doing. This was the beginning of an unexpected life trajectory, and I wanted the name to be as unconventional as the decision was. That’s when Jimmy suggested combining words.
We took legacy and genesis, meaning the beginning of something, and combined them to form Legasis. To us, this commitment meant the beginning of a shared legacy. For three years, he would help me operate the company as Legasis Entertainment. It opened some unexpected doors and introduced creative collaborations which led to deep and meaningful relationships still influencing my life to this day. As I’ve continued to evolve through several business ventures, life transitions, and upheavals, genesis remains to be the confirmation that all dreams have to begin somewhere to become a legacy.
This book is every part of Jimmy’s as it is my own.
While writing this collection, I found my first poetry journal from high school. Adolescence is tumultuous for just about everyone, but I have vivid memories of feeling like an outcast and constantly being bullied for things ultimately out of my control. I was searching for ways to express myself, so I experimented with poetry at the encouragement of my high school English teacher, Carrie, who I also dedicate this book.
I used the sticky notes Carrie, and later Jimmy, wrote in this journal to choose which poems to include in Genesis. They were the only people I trusted to read these vulnerable musings from my younger self, so it felt right to include their input. It was an interesting thing, revisiting what I wrote at a significantly broken stage of my life. As adults, I think we forget (or consciously suppress) how much pain we worked through during our formative years, but it’s impossible to deny my inspiration came from experiencing such volatile emotions
San Diego was at the mercy of savage wildfires, claiming the homes of friends (Mothers of Mayhem). I experienced my first tragic death—a drunk driving accident involving one of my peers (Sober, Drunk). Carrie introduced me to my favorite transcendentalists and how to write Shakespearean sonnets (Constellations, Kissed by a Rose). She also challenged me to write more prose with less structure, though that style wouldn’t re-emerge until much later in life.
Immediately following high school, my parents went through a devastating divorce which spanned my first (and only) year living away at college. This led to reckless experimentation with drugs and alcohol, the dismantling of what little self-confidence I possessed and left me susceptible to forming codependent behaviors. This is also the period when I fell in love for the first time. While I was able to draw inspiration from our tumultuous six-year romance, our emotionally abusive relationship was the thing to extinguish my voice as a writer fully. It would be several years before I was inspired to write poetry again.
The poems included in Foundations were written between 2015 and 2018.
I was struggling to find my place in the world and doubted my potential as a writer. I still found magic in the mundane, but poetry was the farthest thing from my mind. I knew writing was still rooted in my identity, but I had no idea how to use it to connect with the people in my life or my surroundings. I felt voiceless in a loquacious world but had so much I wanted to say. It turns out, the voice I considered lost was still within me after all. It merely needed immersive travels and creative exploration as its foundation to finally emerge
Mother Nature (September 2015) was the first time I felt aligned with my dreams. I sold everything I owned, including the entertainment company, to pursue a volunteer opportunity to study orangutans in the wild. I remember sitting in the Sumatran rainforest after our first encounter with a subadult male. I was relaxing on a massive boulder in the middle of the river near our base camp. Trees towered around me in every direction with an impenetrable density. Cicadas were humming in perfect pitch, and the birds were highly active despite remaining unseen in the canopies. I remember feeling so unimportant at this moment—that every heartache and point of contention in my life was insignificant in the grand scheme of this earthly existence. I emerged from the rainforest a different person than when I entered. I had discovered this sense of freedom and wildness that propelled me into new experiences. I spent the next four months traveling through Indonesia, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Through the process of shedding what no longer served me, rooting myself in nature, and becoming more connected to cultures I once considered foreign, I returned to the States with a clearer vision of the future I dreamed for myself.
Except love would be the thing to derail said dreams—albeit temporarily. I blindly followed this love even if it meant living in a concrete jungle that nearly decimated the spirit I worked so hard to free. Because of a sexual assault in Cambodia, my days in San Francisco were plagued by panic attacks and PTSD. We found ways to travel together, which appeased my itchy feet and allowed me to catch my breath, but living in the city was draining me of my emotional and physical well-being. It felt like I was constantly drowning in a place I knew I didn’t belong. So when an opportunity to move to Ireland presented itself the following year, we did what any two sane kids would do. We silently eloped and moved our entire lives abroad in a matter of weeks.
Ireland felt like life was finally on track. I was exploring the city and the beautiful countryside on weekends, making friends by way of my new husband. The newness of everything inspired the deepest parts of me. My spousal visa meant I wasn’t legally allowed to work in Ireland, but I was writing full-time, which was the dream. We had a beautiful apartment with high ceilings and original crown molding in a desirable part of town. People believed in our love and it felt good to feel supported finally. From the outside, our lives appeared to be perfect, but without the internal support from my husband, it was only a matter of time before the facade crumbled.
Our proximity to Europe meant we were plotting adventures to new destinations almost weekly. I fell madly in love with our always being gone, which meant I fell into depression every time I was stuck at home. I found myself staring at the same four walls with no real routine. I had nothing of my own to show up for, so I stopped showing up for and taking care of myself. My only identity was an extension of his, and I became a shadow following in the footsteps of his experiences. By the end of the year, I found myself in the thick of winter depression, planning and paying for a second wedding I never wanted but was wholly for his benefit. I was becoming more detached the further I fell into my role as a housewife, maintaining an image for the benefit of everyone else but at the expense of my individuality. Our lives appeared to be a fairy tale, but I felt like a prisoner to the narrative I personally wrote into existence. The process of domestication was slowly suffocating me and I lost all sense of purpose.
I was even beginning to lose the will to live.
When Jimmy died in June of 2018, the entire world went grey. I doubted I would ever see life the same again. I had become so detached from my being that it was easy to go through the motions of another tragic loss. After witnessing the outpouring of love at his funeral and a serendipitous introduction to Reiki, something within me changed. It felt as though life snapped back into alignment and things quickly evolved into something far greater than anything I could have expected. I didn’t know it, but I was about to embark on a spiritual journey beyond my comprehension.
With my husband’s prior permission, I planned for a quick return to Southeast Asia in August. After losing Jimmy, I extended my itinerary to span four months. I set the intention of reconnecting with the people who shaped (and saved) me in my previous travels. I was tired of being alone, so I vowed to share my adventures with as many humans as possible.
Before the big departure, I traveled to Scotland to reconnect with a friend I met while living in Sumatra. Returning to him felt like returning home, and I knew the rainforest would be the final piece to my healing journey. I wrote my first poem (The Highlands) in three years and realized life was about to come full circle in myriad ways. So when I ended up in Sri Lanka at the same time as a woman I knew from London, I was eager to trust the fortuitous alignment. We feared our fierce independence would cause us to quarrel, but our interests matched our strides, and we fell into perfect harmony. I was finding my humans and feeling at home in the world again.
I headed to Australia to reconnect with the couple I met bartending on a deserted island in Cambodia. They were the who I was with the night I was raped, though I never had the courage to tell them, and their generosity was the reason I was able to afford to buy a motorbike in Vietnam. We started in Melbourne, headed north to explore the sacred grounds of Uluru, and fulfilled my dream of driving along the Great Ocean Road. After so many years of silence, I finally told them what happened the night we parted ways at the bar. Though there was a palpable weight to what was said, the unconditional love they showed me in this moment of truth finally freed me from the one thing that destroyed me.
Saying goodbye was bittersweet, but thirteen souls were waiting for me in Bali. We met on a photography tour in Iceland six months prior and I had been working all summer on a reunion. After a blissful week of morning meditations and creative collaborations, eight of them followed me to Bukit Lawang for a trek that would change all of our lives.
Returning to the rainforest was like stepping into a vortex. The woman I was when I first entered, the woman I thought I lost and had been fighting my way back to, was the same woman I was when I emerged for a second time. It was as though I left her by the river to keep her safe knowing the devastation the next three years would entail. It felt as if no time had passed, only that I needed to return to find her again.
I filled three journals during the four months I was gone. The poems I curated for this section were written while grounding myself in nature, letting go of past lovers (Someday), exploring new lands, meditating regularly (Shwedagon), healing from sexual trauma, understanding the power of feminine energy (Cosmic Siren’s Song), and finding new soulmates in far corners of the world (Under the Burmese Sun). Every missing piece of my healing journey fell perfectly into place. Life came full circle for me in extraordinary ways. Opportunities continued to align, leading me on a different life trajectory than intended when I left.
When I returned to Ireland in November, life had taken on a different meaning. I could no longer remain still for life had become too precious. How could I waste my potential after feeling the repercussions of death? This exploration of self and the insistence of following my dreams was met with stubborn resistance; it felt like I had to choose between freedom to pursue them and resuming my role as a lonely housewife.
Ultimately, I chose freedom.
The final section, Emergence, is a celebration of everything leading to the publication of this first book.
It is the culmination of every dream I have seen manifest thus far, and the ones I know are waiting for me on the horizon. It is written in honor of the people I will no longer have a chance to share this life with as well as the people who have yet to align. Emergence is honoring the woman I was in the past and embracing the person I am eager to become in the future. But first, a story.
When I was still living in San Diego in 2014, Jimmy, myself, and our best friend David were at a showcase of mixed performing arts in Vista, California. We were the comedy portion of the lineup and were feeling quite intimidated by the insane talent we were sharing the microphone with that evening. Jimmy expected to be devoured alive because of his timid stature and one-liners, but I assured him they would love him.
After watching a particularly passionate piece of spoken word poetry, I leaned into Jimmy and told him one of my dreams was to perform but had no idea how to begin.
He said, “Hayli. If anyone can do spoken word, it’s you.”
After his quick nod of encouragement, I watched him destroy the room with his punny one-liners and quick bits of self-deprecation. It was rare to see him beaming after a set, but he didn’t stop smiling. I saw in him the same thing he saw within me; the potential to make a difference in people’s moods just by being your authentic, unabashed self. My only wish, even still, was that he could see in himself what was so apparent to the rest of us—how effortlessly talented and deeply loved he was by everyone.
It took six years and the momentum of his loss, but in my final days of living in Ireland, I finally braved the stage of a poetry open mic. Dublin is immensely supportive of its artists and performers, so I felt immediately at home in the spoken word community. After my second night performing, I accepted an opportunity to feature the following week. I only had two poems at the time, but I needed enough material to fill 15 minutes. This meant feverishly writing for the next seven days despite the need to pack all of my earthly possessions for the international move home. There was something within me that poured rather effortlessly, and I blame the sudden surge of creativity on Jimmy.
These poems won’t read the same as the previous ones, but through the process of performing what I’ve written, I have emerged the poet I always hoped I would become. It is the direction I know my poetry will continue to evolve and something I hope Jimmy will be proud of. I chose to end this collection with a poem I wrote about leaving Dublin—a place I called home for the better part of two years—and the simultaneous ending of my marriage. While it is clear now I was never meant to remain in one place, in setting roots I was able to lay the foundations to ignite this creative flame and emerge a woman fierce in her identity as a writer and as a poet.
This small book of poetry ended up being a much-needed introspection of my evolution through the years. Both personally and creatively, I have pursued some unconventional dreams, and they’ve led me further than where I hoped I would end up. While I have no idea where my journey will lead, I can’t help but acknowledge every person and everything that has led me here to this moment.
I want to extend my gratitude to everyone willing to learn a bit more about my heart and your continued support of this unconventional way of being in the world. My hope is by sharing my journey, we can feel a little less alone in our experiences and dare to pursue our dreams—no matter how ambitious they may feel.
Most of all, I hope everyone has a chance to know someone as special as Jimmy Wolpert.
All my love,