A memoir-in-poems about coming of age in sultry Florida and navigating a complex lesbian relationship grounded in the daily world.
|Publisher:||Four Way Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
Jessica Jacobs is the author of Take Me with You, Wherever You're Going (Four Way Books, 2019) and Pelvis with Distance (White Pine Press, 2015), a biography-in-poems of Georgia O'Keeffe, winner of the New Mexico Book Award in Poetry and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. Her chapbook In Whatever Light Left to Us was published by Sibling Rivalry Press in 2016. Her poetry, essays, and fiction have appeared in publications including Orion, New England Review, The Missouri Review, Crazyhorse, and the Oxford American. An avid long-distance runner, Jessica has worked as a rock climbing instructor, bartender, editor, and professor, and is now the Associate Editor of the Beloit Poetry Journal. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with her wife, the poet Nickole Brown.
Read an Excerpt
If Marriage Means Someone Who Will Always Come Looking: A Fable
Two run through a stretch of winter, through a cold so constant there is only the myth of thaw. Hair tempered to salt-spiked quivers, eyes lashed with tears flash-frozen, veins like ice-bound rivers. Their every step, a detonation in miniature, a brume of displaced ground cloud.
They run neither from nor toward. But this is not the mystery.
One punches into a snowbank and brings forth a palmful. Though thirsty,
it is offered first to the other. Cold peppers their tongues, melts
into sustenance. Who needs to walk on water, they ask, when we can run on it instead, can hold it for miles in our open palms and never suffer for more?
Yet in this cross section of bantling January, this is not the mystery.
Stalled sky-top, the noon sun rouses enough vapor to erase the day, to loose fields from their fieldness into confluence with roads.
Each counts the other's strides to stay joined in time, keeps pace with the other's breathing — in, two steps; out, two steps. But on this bleared road,
how to move together and still heed the boundaries of self — still have selves at all?
In the worst of it — heavy with the miles covered, with the miles still to come — the mystery is this: They never wonder why they are there, and never wish to be anywhere else. True,
even in that expanse of absence, in that place where, from a distance, they are two points awaiting the thread needed to bind a button to cloth, which would in turn bind the seam of field and sky.
When they part for a breath, running alone along the river, so that love can follow and find, each ties red ribbons to branches — a bloodless blood trail.
If being bound as they are means they can never fully lose themselves,
then at least it also means they can never
be fully lost.
I wanted to explain this life to you, even if I had to become, over the years, someone else to do it.
— Larry Levis
Why Give an Excuse for Skinny Dipping When You Can Tell an Origin Story Instead?
Yes, I swam naked with strangers before we married, floated the dark coupling of creek and sky while stars lit my skin for others, who were not you, to see. But this was nothing new, meant nothing;
as soon as I could walk, follow a trail of shed clothes and you'd find me, mouth deep in the lake as the rain came down, watching each drop answered by a splash-tipped shoot:
for my eyes alone,
a fugitive garden.
Why would I let anything
between me and that world?
Back on shore, backhoes chewed hungry at the ground — today's jagged pit,
tomorrow's bulb-bordered pond. But in that taffied summer dusk, when hours bent near double without breaking, the hole was simply itself: an emptiness in possession of nothing; an emptiness to be filled with whatever I saw fit.
Ninety-six degrees and one-hundred percent humidity equaled weather the same without as within. The heat amniotic. The pit slick with the once held breath of earth, with runnels of mud from afternoon rain.
In a blue two-piece, I slid the sides until my parents left and so did the suit. New flesh on new soil,
baptized dark by dirt. Covered that way I was made more visible:
the hunger to plunge deep enough into every moment to have my tongue swimming in it, to learn the world with my body — a map traced out, indelible, a map that would one day lead me to you.
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.
Sex, Suddenly, Everywhere
In shop class, that redhead with the jumpsuit zippered from throat to crotch, trilling, Boys,
don't touch my zipper, until they trailed her like goslings, transfixed by the shiny metal pull. The couple caught
naked in the science building bathroom. Backhand whispers of, But I wouldn't even take my shoes off in there! And how many
eighth-grade dance parties in a country club boathouse, some girl in the corner crying about some boy, some boy nervously plucking
the wales of his corduroys, waves lapping — unheard but always lapping —
as I got freaked by the Pagan twins to a Boys II Men slow jam.
Confused girl meshed between two confused brothers, I tried not to stare at the girls I wished against me instead.
* * *
And every day those hallways: crowded cattle shoots, musked up clusters of young bodies, slap of sandals, snap of bra straps, high sweet stench of mall-bought perfume. My nose to the back of another girl's
neck, close enough to see a single strand, escaped, curling beneath her collar, the gym class dampness between her shoulder blades. Sometimes it was all I could do to keep my clothes on. To keep from moaning
aloud. Once a bucket — an occasional, embarrassing slosh over the top if jostled — now a sieve, desire leaking from every pore. Which is why I tried so hard to be harder. To use the world as my whetstone, sharpening
myself against each day. My body cried out for armor. Big boned,
broad shouldered, I was built for it: forced into a dress with shoulder pads,
I was the 90s' littlest linebacker. So I began to run, clanking
like a tank around cul-de-sacs. Began to climb, building biceps strong enough to stiff-arm the world away. Even my heart grew heavy, grew into one more thing to carry.
Each March, the swarms arrived — my gut-wrenched need made visible, made just as repulsive as I'd imagined it to be: windshields caked
and rendered useless, radiators choked with the bodies of black and red lovebugs,
kissing bugs, fuck bugs, a horror movie
façade on every building, curtains of them unmoved by the breeze — a mob, a building blackout. And I couldn't help
but envy them — those ardent insects, coupling for days, even in flight — their lust answered, each writhing creature partnered;
their desire so singular, their purpose was obvious: they didn't even have mouths to feed.
Ain't Nothing Like Breck for Stop n? Stare Hair
It's 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are? Well, there I was
with the remote, my thumb a die punch,
a jackhammer's relentless up and down
through a world of possible lives — America's Most Wanted, Nick
at Nite, To Catch a Predator — in search of prey worth pausing for. I slowed
though, not for shows but for their interruptions: Bare shoulders. Wet
neck. Rope of hair glistening beneath a glistening stream. Prell. Breck. So many ways
to get your hair glossy. So much skin just off-screen
I tried to keep myself from wanting to see. I rapped my wrist
with the remote; pinched the underside of my thighs, behind
my knees — a girl's small-fingered self-flagellation.
only enough to know I should not want this. So I called myself names, donned
shame as my hair shirt. Though I never once turned it off. Or looked away.
And That's How I Almost Died of Foolishness in Beautiful Florida
Nights, I ran golf courses whose water traps shone red with the eyes of alligators and rang with their falsely innocuous chorus of chirps. The fairway grass was less wilderness than carpet, whispering up its pesticides. To get home, I memorized street signs; every house looked the same.
I have no doubt that if I'd stayed — given in to the gravity of expectations and inertia — in my push to feel something, anything, I'd be dead already:
neck snapped over the bars of a mountain bike; fallen off a cliff while climbing; too many drugs, the wrong kind of women, or maybe even a husband who'd never have known why sadness was all he brought me.
Why I spent all day staring at the lake, wading shoreline where gators found their daily shade, thinking it wouldn't be that bad, really,
couldn't be much worse than this to offer myself to those jaws, those daggered rows of teeth.
Its body weighting mine to the muck-sunk bottom, saying, Enough of all this air and sky. Come rest with me
here, deep as you can. Come rest and dream of the life you might have led if you'd left this place, this falsely innocuous, this beautiful Florida.
The koi were killed by a possum killed by our dog, whose barks brought my dad to the dark
yard, along with me — his stand-in son, his midnight shadow. In the glower of the flashlight,
the dog's eyes were red and rolling, the possum's fur bright as an errant scrap of daylight.
The dog wouldn't put it down, bent the pipe of the pool skimmer my father used to lever
the body free from his jaws. My parents gave the dog away soon after. Because, I suspect,
wildness can live in the suburbs only so long as it doesn't bare its teeth; so long as when the light
finds it, it drops its prey and wags its tail;
so long as we confine our darkness to the dark.
In the citrus light of winter, I stole oranges from your trees; through your white sand, tore bike tracks ragged as rope burns. In you, I was a primal thing.
I carried a keychain in your image, my name
stamped along its length.
We were always claiming you,
weren't we? Your every pine
a scarred tally of who loved whom and when. But even before I could brush my own hair, I marched into my parents? room and declared, I?m not from here.
of course, I meant you.
Though I'd never seen them, I dreamt of mountains, of a landscape tall enough to contain me. So, yes, my first betrayal of you was that early, that inconsolable.
At Ponce de León's fountain, eternal youth had an egg-rot stink. I wouldn't drink. All I wanted was to grow old enough to leave you.
Florida, we never had a chance.
Empty buzzsaw of jet skis, creatures lurking the darkness of our dock. And other darknesses, too:
The swak of girls? thighs leaving the seat of my car. All
the lipglossed mouths from which I couldn't look away.
Land of mowed lawns, state of near perpetual summer, in you my longing knew no seasons. No dormancy. Eighteen years was enough.
But my night mind grieves you. Now that I don't have to,
I come home often — for in my dreams I just remember: swim and swim
through a day when sun columns your water into a great hall, silt sifting like dust motes through the light; a hall where all my earliest incarnations sit down to feast
while I skim that water's skin, calling
down to the ones I used to be.
Loving is far easier than being loved. For in the first, I am in full control of the action, the transmission. What would it mean to accept something that might one day be withheld or run out? ... What is more simultaneously freeing and enslaving?
— Alain de Botton
Why I Can't Write the Poem About How We Met
Because I came to that bar with someone else and left with her, too. Because if it was fate,
then it's fate we fought for far too long. Because most people who love a love story want
the streamlined when and where and how and wait only so long for a happy ending. Because
for those six years after, I was accompanied by a constant song — dirge of the near-miss — yet
tried to convince myself otherwise. Because I couldn't admit I'd been wrong. Because
I didn't insist, and the time we lost is lost for good. Because whether a story is happy
or not depends on when you end it.
What I didn't say those years you thought I'd forgotten you
was I was my own city, my own New York, and you a succession of rolling blackouts, rolling through me the way a shadow, each afternoon, unfurled the one ginkgo tree on my block: a rilled eclipse,
a dark slender bar — that mark
of division. On the corner where 11th splits custody between East and West, we stood for years, a foot in either direction. The charge too much for any wire to hold, we passed it from one to the next in a series of cascading failures.
Lights hushed from Houston to Battery Park.
Dark as any July 5th of my Florida childhood: BBQs ashed, bins clanking with empties, Roman candles gone to soggy paper. But once, lying alone on our dock,
I watched a meteor bisect the sky like a thumbnail scoring the skin of a plum.
You split me
again and again, cast across the life
I thought I was living.
You swore I'd forgotten you; I'd only wished I could.
So now, let me
say this: Each time you returned, traffic lights failed and pedestrians fled — the tunnels clogged as bad arteries, bridges quivering above the glossy throat of the East River. But others,
others stayed. Opened
windows and kicked off sheets, made love to battery-powered boomboxes on stoops below where, neighbors carried grills from fire escapes to sidewalks and shared all the food they couldn't bear to waste. Such toothsome smells from those feasts against spoilage, those burnt
offerings. And later,
know there was a moment when every office, every bar, every apartment in my city emptied and all of us stood in the streets like the children we'd taught ourselves not to be — hands on hips, elbows jutting like wings, heads thrown back — remembering what had been there all along: the night sky, suddenly visible.
When smudged illegible by solitude,
run the bus route, past shelter after shelter huddled by commuters
eager for home, all turned as one to watch for what will take them there.
Pretend it's coincidence, how you stay
just ahead of the bus, how this lands you in their collective gaze. A moving object from the right direction — their eyes
can't help but find you. Don't stop.
Simply to be seen is a kind of salvation.
Run through their longing. Pretend
you are what they've been waiting for.
Run. Pretend such pretending is enough.
Excerpted from "Take Me with You, Wherever You're Going"
Copyright © 2019 Jessica Jacobs.
Excerpted by permission of Four Way Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
If Marriage Means Someone Who Will Always Come Looking: A Fable 3
Why Give an Excuse for Skinny Dipping When You Can Tell an Origin Story Instead? 7
13th birthday and something told me to wake early 10
Sex, Suddenly, Everywhere 12
Sex Ed 14
Ain't Nothing Like Breck for Stop n' Stare Hair 15
And That's How I Almost Died of Foolishness in Beautiful Florida 17
Leaving Home 19
To Florida 20
Why I Can't Write the Poem About How We Met 25
What I didn't say those years you thought I'd forgotten you 26
Lonesome Remedy 28
In New York, I Remember Greece (So as Not to Remember Her) 29
Postcards Braver Than I Could Be 32
To a Florida Girl, Spring Was Just a Poetic Convention 33
Out of the Windfields 37
Thanks, stupid heart 39
When your surgeon brought snapshots to the waiting room 40
Post-op, still out of it, you said, I would 42
Laying Down the Veils 44
Postcards, After the Fall 46
When You Ask Me Why We Took So Long 49
Who Needs Premarital Counseling When We Have Nightly Visits to the Doubt Couch? 50
Elopement Epithalamium 52
A Question to Ask Once the Honeymoon Is Over 54
Though we made love in the afternoons 59
In a Thicket of Body-Bent Grass 61
In the First Fall of Our Marriage 63
Curly, My Tangier 64
Your mouth to me 66
When You Ask About My Tramp Years 67
Between the Shoreline and the Sea 69
In the Grove of Self-Charging Trees 71
In Wyoming 73
My Winded Love, My Sweet Shuffler 75
Stridulation Sonnet 77
Kina Hora 78
Finding Something 83
In the Days Between Detection and Diagnosis 85
When My Job Is to Wait 95
Between the Kingdoms of The Sick and The Well 96
Motion Artifact 98
The First Rule of Rock Tumbling Is Rocks Must Be of Similar Hardness 105
Because You Waited for Me to Fly Your First Kite 107
On Our Nightly Walk, She Takes My Hand 109