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10-02-2019

Jessica Jacobs

Primer

 

A Florida child knows the safest part

of a lake is the middle. That gators

and moccasins shade in the lilies, hunker

shoreline in the muck just past

the trucked-in sand. Knows a snake egg

means a mother’s nearby, and angry.

That to kill her, you must bring a shovel

down right behind her skull—leave

too much neck and the headed half will keep

coming at you. Knows to run zigzag if a gator

gives chase, their squat digger legs built

for speed, not for turning. Has a friend

who has a friend who lost a thumb

to a snapping turtle, has worn live lizards

as earrings, watched lake-caught minnows

devour a store-bought birthday

goldfish. Has been dragged on a field trip

to a sinkhole wide as a roller rink:

a red truck at the bottom, wheels up;

along with half a house and a wreck

of toys and books. Has been told it happened

on a day like any other. Has gone home

to tread water at the lake’s calming   

center; cool streamers of springs fluttering   

her thighs, the sun a constant; the sucking

sound of a bathplug pulled, her imagination. 

 

 

13th Birthday and Something Told Me to Wake Early

 

so I bellied out to the edge of our dock, fitted my fingers, palms

down, and rested my chin in their knuckled valley. Beneath

the black of the sky—a soft black, one in the process of giving itself                             

 

to morning—the water was hammered aluminum, dimpled and glossy.

But something swam against the current, surfacing at intervals: two dark peaks

visible, the terrible mouth submerged. The ruptured lake

 

resealed after it, while far trees charred and crumpled

as the sun rose fast behind them, its kerf of light slashing toward me,

rutting the water as a buck does a tree trunk, leaving a fragrant, bright

 

wound. At its touch, bass leapt, attacking minnows, each splash triggering

a band of explosions, ripples shattering against the dock.

And there I was, hovering

 

above a lake now boiling with fish. Me, in that body, newly a teenager,

my legs and underarms freshly clear cut, razed by razor blade, naked

to the day. Breasts heavy and foreign as a knapsack. Desire

 

just as weighted—an insistent pull in my gut, flush in my chest. I wanted to be

anywhere else, I wanted to be, suddenly, with

others. The brine and swell of them, the splintered smell as I lay my cheek

 

to the boards, new stink from my armpits, which I had not yet learned

to mask, musk from the panties I’d dreamt in—a smell I could not yet

name, the warmth of it, the sweet sour ache of a body, opening.

                                                                                                        If fear

 

is metal in the mouth; desire, burnt sugar on the tongue; what was the taste

of that day? Of that fish-jumped, sun-stunned morning?

                                                                                          It was the green

of just mowed Sunday lawns, of mineral and lake muck, seaweed and algal blooms,

 

and, for the first time, an awareness of the taste of my own mouth, which I hoped

would one day soon taste another’s. A passing plane was a silver mote

in the sky. Take me with you, wherever you’re going.

 

 

A Question to Ask Once the Honeymoon is Over

 

Big around as my bike helmet and high as my ankle, the box turtle

was halfway from my side of the road

to the other. The warm sun felt delicious;

my legs, strong, and it was almost

to the center line. I hadn’t been passed by a car

for miles. Figuring if it was still there, I’d pick it up

on the way back, I cycled past.

 

                                                                    Years before,

the woman across the street was shaped like that turtle,

or more like a toadstool, really, squat bell

of a body atop the thin stalks of her legs, milky and bare

beneath her frayed black housedress. It hurt her to move—clear

even from my second-story window—so she brought

her trash out in increments, in small, bursting

grocery bags. She tossed each out the door onto the porch, then

nudged them, one step to the next, before easing—carefully,

painfully—herself down, a step at a time. Then she toed them,

finally, slowly, slowly into a crumpled heap at the curb. I left

my window to help; then took her trash out every week after.

                                                                    That story—

                                                           I hadn’t yet

                                                                    told it to my wife, had I?

 

       But there was the turnaround

quicker than expected and I spun

to find a beat-down bus trailed by all the fuming cars

that hadn’t passed me.

                                Steadying my handlebars against the wind,

I rode back hard, dodging around crushed

squirrels and tire-splayed birds.                

                                                     The turtle

was just where I’d left it, but with the top of its shell

torn away. The dead turtle,

a raw red bowl, its blood slashing the twinned yellow lines

into an unequal sign,

                     as in a ≠ b, as in thinking about doing the right thing

is not the same as doing it. As in, how many times

did I watch that old woman shuffle bags down the stairs

(really, how many?) before I went from watching

to helping? As in, with my wife beside me

I am the woman who does not hesitate

to lay down her bike and give a small life

safe passage. As in, I biked slowly

home, told no one. As in:

 

Will she love me

less when she learns

I am not equal

                                         to the person I am when she is watching?

 

 

 

Stridulation Sonnet

 

Tiger beetles, crickets, velvet ants, all

know the useful friction of part on part,

how rub of wing to leg, plectrum to file,

marks territories, summons mates. How

 

a lip rasped over finely tined ridges can

play sweet as a needle on vinyl. But

sometimes a lone body is not enough.

So a sapsucker drums the chimney flash

 

for our amped-up morning reveille. Or,

later, home again, the wind’s papery

come hither through the locust leaves. The roof

arcing its tin back to meet the rain.

 

The bed’s soft creak as I roll to my side.

What sounds will your body make against mine?

-From Take Me with You, Wherever You're Going, Four Way Books, 2019.

Bio: JESSICA JACOBS is the author of Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going, published by Four Way Books in March 2019. Her debut collection, Pelvis with Distance, a biography-in-poems of Georgia O'Keeffe, won the New Mexico Book Award in Poetry and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. She received her BA at Smith College and her MFA in Poetry at Purdue University. Her poetry, essays, and fiction have appeared in publications including Orion, New England Review, Guernica, and The Missouri Review. An avid long-distance runner, Jessica has worked as a rock climbing instructor, bartender, and professor—teaching for Hendrix College, UNC-Wilmington’s graduate program, and Writing Workshops in Greece, among other programs—and now serves as the Chapbook Editor for Beloit Poetry Journal. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with her wife, the poet Nickole Brown.