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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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.