THE BRAVEST OF THE BIRDS
Through the gauzy curtain, our parents
were a flicker of television in the darkened room,
which made me the only witness
as my sister wrote her best self in the air.
From the balcony of that beachside hotel, our bare feet
pitted by concrete, she called to the circling gulls.
She was hungry, but loved those birds enough
to empty her bag of breakfast rolls, hard opening
to soft in her hands. Unable to throw through the bars,
I helped her onto a white plastic chair and, suddenly
taller than me, the rhythm of her throws
drew birds until they stretched for stories
above and below, until the hollow beating of
their wings thundered the blue afternoon and my heart
clutched and fell with each of them—
the controlled violence of their hurtling dives,
their effortless rise—while she just leaned out,
past the toprail, past safety or sense, trusting herself
to the sky, and answered their cries with her operatic own,
this lofty whirling winged wheel
on the fulcrum of my sister.
The idea of luck—or its lack—the question
of joy, haunts me.
Sometimes we go months without speaking.
Anger and envy close as two sisters pressed
to the same rail. When she hurts me most, I try to breathe
again that salt-warmed air. To see her
face incandescent in the sunlight, her hair so bright
it looked like fire, the bravest of the birds
arcing in, taking bread directly from her hand.
AT FIRST SIGHT, MANY SEEINGS LATER
Blessed are they who remember
that what they now have they once longed for. —Jean Valentine
Lifting my chin, my wife said, When you look
at my breasts like that, you make my face
feel lonely. So this was new marriage
on a Wednesday morning. When
Rebecca saw Isaac the first time, he was striding
the noon field. A man at full sunlight, he cast
no shadow. From her camel, most translators
spin naphal into alighted, allowing her
some dignity. The truth is it means she fell:
in a cloud of desert dust, she was a smitten,
resplendent heap lanterning up at her future
mate. The truth is, in the beginning, your face
was too much for me. The force of my desire,
matched. Now, years on, we have matching
slippers and each night, on the couch, between us
the dog snores. How little we look
at what we think we know, less seeing
than simply noting: Yes, still there.
Yet if the past of love is longing,
the future, grief—at least for one of us—
then let the present praise
the little brown bird of the familiar. Let me fall
from my camel again and again.
Let me gaze up and see anew
the apexed angles of your collarbones,
let me learn them with my tongue, this owl
flown into the sweet sheet of your skin,
wings in upstroke, your chest,
my love, etched forever
with this exaltation of flight.
Jessica Jacobs is the author of Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going (Four Way Books), winner of the Devil’s Kitchen and Goldie Awards, and Pelvis with Distance (White Pine Press), a biography-in-poems of Georgia O’Keeffe, winner of the New Mexico Book Award and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. Chapbook Editor for Beloit Poetry Journal, Jessica lives in Asheville, NC, with her wife, the poet Nickole Brown, with whom she co-authored Write It! 100 Poetry Prompts to Inspire (Spruce Books/PenguinRandomHouse). Her collection of poems in conversation with Genesis will be out from Four Way Books in 2024.