In a Dry as Dry Desert Time – A Poem by American Poet Jessica Jacobs Plus Two Others from Her 2019 Memoir-In-Poems

American poet Jessica Jacobs. Photo Credit: Lily Darragh from Jessica Jacobs’s Website.

When You Ask Me Why We Took So Long

I could tell you
again how tired I was then, how
disillusioned. The real answer,
though? I have no idea. But I do know
        this:

             Even with evidence
of recent rain, a desert
says only dryness. Its low bushes brittle,
its cracked earth red as rust.

    Yet this hides the land’s proclivity
for flooding.
             For after weeks, sometimes
months, of empty skies, when
        rain finally arrives,
      it’s repelled.
                       
            No matter how thirsty
the ground, after so long
     without water, it has forgotten
               how to drink.

Jessica Jacobs from Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going, Four Way Books, 2019

Thanks to the Palm Beach Poetry Festival last year I became aquainted with Jessica Jacobs and her wife, Nickole Brown. They were stand-outs for me.  But, and if you could see my office/library you might understand this, I didn’t go back through Jessica’s 2019 latest poetry collection until a few weeks ago when I was shelving heaps of poetry books!

Jessica’s latest collectionTake Me with You, Wherever You’re Going  has a tenderness combined  with a fierce honesty that brooks no sentimentality. This is an inside look at love, eros, longing and a love story before and after marriage. This book/memoir captures the “is-ness” of the everything a deep relationship is including its seismic shakes, its fragility and its strength. It’s all here.

I knew I was reading the kind of poetry book that matters to me when its deep fragrances of words and emotion stayed with me. Little hauntings that tied me back to the compelling longing and vulnerability in this book. To write about love in a way that does not mush down into an ice cream soupiness but bites hard first and lets the tart sweetness seep in second is a skill. I leave this book its poems feeling as if I have breathed in bigger breaths.  This book two big lungfills!

I haven’t mentioned the word restraint but the restraint in the epigraph poems gets me with each reading.  And the elegance of the metaphor Jessica chooses feels superb to me. The metaphor holds so well the image of how a dry time in life, a dry shut-down, crusted over time in life can repel life-giving moisture if it comes flooding in way too fast! What a remarkable answer to the title’s question? But first a little prevarication and wee poet’s lie! Love it. The real answer. I have no idea. Whoa. Wait a minute. But then, but then, Jessica tells us exquisitely:

       For after weeks, sometimes
months, of empty skies, when
          rain finally arrives,
        it’s repelled. 

               No matter how thirsty 
the ground, after so long 
     without water, it has forgotten
              how to drink.

These stanzas knock me over. I use this poem in my poetry therapy sessions. How she captures when any of us come back to life, to nourishment, to love, even of oneself, it is a tender thing. A soft and gentle rain is best! But I am not sure that’s how it shook out for the two lovers in these poems. Since this poem comes from a memoir in poems I will call them Jessica and Nichole.

American poets Nickole Brown and Jessica Jacobs

Jessica currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina with Nickole and the two of them published their book of writing prompts called Write iT! last September. (There it is beautifully presented here!) She currently serves as the chapbook Editor of Beloit Poetry Journal and is the Distinguished Poet of the Western Region for the Gilbert-Chappell Mentorship Series.

She may have only published two full length collections so far but they have been celebrated! Her latest collection was named one of Library Journal‘s Best Poetry Books of the year, won the Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award from Southern Illinois University and the Goldie Award from the Golden Crown Literary Society, and was a finalist for the Brockman-Campbell, American Fiction, and Julie Suk Book Awards. Her debut collection, Pelvis with Distance (White Pine Press), won the New Mexico Book Award in Poetry and  was an Over the Rainbow selection by the American Library Association and a finalist for the Lambda Literary and Julie Suk Awards.

I could have sworn I had profiled Nickole in a previous post but I realize I had featured her in a writing adventure I created for an on-line six day poetry retreat last year! I featured her poem: Self Portrait as a Land Snail! I will write a blog featuring Nickole soon! I promise! But in the meantime an excerpt from a poem of Jessica’s on Nickole’s hair!

from Curly, My Tangler

 

       Other lovers want to live with particular eyes
       I only want to be your stylist.

- Pablo Neruda

Who needs rumplestiltskin, when such treasure
abounds, her gold woven

around my bike gears, tangled in my toothbrush,
vining every drain-even sometimes, found

in my mouth upon waking. And just
this morning, from the bathroom, she called me in.
         My mama's the only one who ever
         brushed out my hair, she said. But you're
         my wife. You should know.

I begin at the bottom, her curls separating
with the thick sound of good cloth tearing.
         Do you see why I had no friends
         when i was little? she asked. Mama
         brushed out my hair each day before school.

I eased my fingers, for the first time,
all the way through, asked how that felt for her.
vulnerable she said.
.........
 

Jessica Jacobs, ibid

This is what I mean about intimate moments that Jessica conjures up in the poems from her book which she because she calls it a memoir gives us permission i think to say Jessica is the speaker. Whew!

From curly, tangled hair and what a title – Curly – My Tangler – I wanted to close with another beautifully wrought love poem anchored by a metaphor. It is hard to write these kinds of muscular yet tender poems. Bravo, Jessica and thank you.

On Our Nightly Walk, She Takes My Hand

Across the dark street, the dance studio
is a brilliant lamp, a Cornell box

set to music and motion: girls hold each other
in swaying "pas de deux", a phrase

first translated for me as "piece of God".
That’s wrong, of course,

but not entirely. For what is it to move in time
with another, to acknowledge and learn

a body beside your own—the dancing apart
and the final coming back

together—what is this if not
                      some kind of grace, 

some human-sized serving of God?

Jessica Jacobs, ibid

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