July 3, 2020KR Reviews

Carrion Items Must Be Stowed: On Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going by Jessica Jacobs

New York, NY: Four Way Books, 2019. 109 pages. $15.95.

For Jessica Jacobs, the figurative values of poetry build a consciousness somewhere between the earth and what’s beyond the earth, feeling and what’s beyond feeling, the line and everything beyond these lines from the opening lyric: “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.” Myself, I’m usually too scared to look back at the earth when flying, but at the very least I’ll try and parse the clouds from the anxiety that I’m missing something below. I think of maps—and my expectation that something should be where it’s promised to be—or the cultural silence of what’s uncharted. I think of maps and how metaphor flourishes through the rhythms of a well-crafted line. Topography, to my mind, doesn’t matter as much as the imaginations that exist on top of the plane, shaped by the map itself. Jacobs’s second collection of poems, Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going, travels through places and particular communities—her hometown in Florida, then New York and Greece, Santa Barbara and Little Rock, transformative shoreline and ubiquitous sea—and through cultural heritage, the poetic terms one breaks when navigating those most consuming emotions, like love.

Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going is a collection that tells a love story, poems about a marriage. But this is not a collection that only tells a love story—one characterized by moments of resistance to feeling, then its opposite (the consummation of)—as that narrative weaves through lyrics that interrogate the idea of home. “Here, the mystery / is dead, long live the mystery,” Jacobs writes in “Laying Down the Veils.” While readers may first wonder what exactly is so mysterious about mystery, so much depends on how here contends and becomes. And what love occupies that here? Two poems, “Why I Can’t Write the Poem About How We Met” and “When You Ask Me Why We Took So Long” mark moments early in the collection in which love is remembered as something to be justified then explained. To understand the latter poem is to rest with the conditional could, that Jacobs has mastered fiddling with time on uncertain terms, organized through the certainty of rhythm, the certainty of rhythm organized in an uncertain voice. “When You Ask Me Why We Took So Long” is a lyric of present tense, remembering the past as contextualized within an imagined dialogue:

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

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

The stanza break, marked by a shift from “I” to a speaking landscape, encourages some figurative ratio between the two halves, as if to read the desert as embodied through “I” or vice versa. Is the speaker trying to avoid answering the question, or is the poet offering an answer through the allegory of a desert? Perhaps both, yet to my mind moments of allegorizing these feelings are less interesting than reading these lines as a nervous speaker—vocalizing silence, or at least something that doesn’t answer a question—how a temperament develops throughout the collection.

Jacobs writes a particular love poem: unabashedly recollecting, the humor of Donne, the tension between feeling and a resistance to the novelty of feeling. She invites her readers to make meaning from her metaphorical movements through love just as Jacobs encourages a literal, semantic reading. In the poem “To Florida,” the poet reframes both the significance of travel and place as well as her apostrophic you: “By here, / of course I meant you,” and her colloquial “of course” indicates, to my mind, something presumed about the knowledge of this poem. The lines follow: “Though I’d never seen them, I dreamt / of mountains, of a landscape tall enough to contain me,” and by now I’m certain that Jacobs herself has constructed an imagined landscape that contains her, embodies love and the anxieties one might have about the dangers of fetishizing love—no matter what resistance these poems claim towards emoting.

A great achievement of Take Me with You: the book reads partially as a narrative sequence, yet the poems stand as individual feats of lyric composition. To accomplish both, to ensure the parts are as strong as the whole, to compose poems with particular strengths not contingent upon the sequence, is an accomplishment worth noting. Thematically, beyond remembering episodes of love and the development of a relationship, beyond the concerns of childhood and home, Jacobs’s collection arrives at a long poem about her partner’s cancer treatment. The figurative patterns of this book recall the anxiety of liminality, uncertainty and movement, as these lines from “In the Days Between Detection and Diagnosis” sift through that panic:

is the closest

we come
to birth, this tumor

the most
her body conceives?

The attempt and subsequent failure to identify physical operations which can destroy one’s body is, again, a liminal anxiety. The mostly two-beat lines that introduce this long poem, with only three commas dividing a single sentence, position the words inside her readers’ voices, embodying the same anxiety—because Jacobs’s memories exist between the markings on the page and the sounds in our voices.

Traveling through memories, travelling through littoral zones, this collection also considers the ways in which the cultures that consume these spaces shape James’s ability to feel and acknowledge feeling, beginning with what it meant to grow up queer in the South. Just as “Primer” begins with this anecdote about safety, “A Florida child knows the safest part / of a lake is the middle,” these lines from another poem of Floridian childhood remind Jacobs’s readers that knowing one’s physical proximity to danger will never guarantee safety:

                                        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

To presume one’s death—not foresee, rather imagine in the past—in the context of childhood trauma also means to acknowledge one’s life: everything that has been felt from the moment in which that death was imagined, then stowed away. Instead, in the process of reconciling disillusionment and feeling, Jacobs’s collection explains that culture is carried with us, while one contains every place they have once considered a home—and so shapes the ways in which one reconciles disillusionment and feeling. When Jacobs writes “In Wyoming,” “I’ve returned now alone, to read, but mostly / to listen, hovering in the god-seat,” readers understand this is not the same type of listening that could have occurred anywhere else or before this moment, though like Jacobs, all I’m doing is listening.