Jessica Jacobs’s Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going (Four Way Books) is a love story. Plain and simple. Actually, strike that. This second collection of poems by Jacobs is hardly plain or simple. Instead, its language is lush and evocative, and its love story is a complicated plotline of twists and turns.
The plot starts in the swamplands of Florida with a girl swimming naked in a lake teeming with gators, moccasins, and snapping turtles. In Jacobs’s hands, this land becomes a primordial ooze. A girl submerges into these waters seeking escape and to discover her truth. She emerges as a sexualized woman.
It was the green
of just Sunday mowed 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.
In this first section of poems, Jacobs beautifully renders both the Florida landscape and the emotional landscape of coming of age and grappling with sexual identity.
Imagery of place and heart entwine throughout Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going. Location becomes the stage, a witness, and sometimes even a character in this unfolding love story. This particular love story begins in New York City “on the corner where 11th splits / custody between East and West, we stood / for years, a foot in either direction.” New York City embodies all that is right and wrong with this love—the electricity—“The charge too much / for any wire to hold” and the traffic of the lovers’ comings and goings, missed connections, failed lights, and rolling blackouts. Yet, love triumphs like a bridge “quivering over the glossy throat of the East River.”
In the poem, “Why I Can’t Write the Poem About How We Met,” the speaker knowingly states,
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
…whether a story is happy/or not depends on when you end it.
Thankfully for the reader, this is just “how it finally begins.”
Jacobs’s calls her collection a memoir in poetry. Take Me with You, Wherever You are Going plumbs both memoir and love poem traditions with poems that hold heart and memory in hand. This creates an intimacy between poet and reader. Not only is the poet the speaker, but the journey to find and fall in love gives the poems a heightened emotional urgency.
The reader is along for a ride of sensual writing that leaps from New York to Santa Fe to Big Sur, California, to a farm in Massachusetts to the broad sweep of the Midwest. In “Out in the Windfields,” the speaker runs through fields brought to their knees by combines, then kneels between the knees of her lover to taste
of snowmelt in an alpine pond; tongue cased
in ocean’s wetsuit of salt; green and mineral/of a springfed lake—but most of all,
chlorine’s high bite in the throatback
of every Florida pool in summer, the water
so bath-warm, so body-kindred,
that entering was like sliding into another skin…
The intimacy and immediacy of Jacobs’s poems invite the reader to slip into the poet’s skin, to gaze through her eyes and to know her emotional terrain. Jacob uses images to layer meaning rather than obscure, creating the effect of a camera lens coming into focus. Yet there is no camera distancing the reader from the speaker, no observational tone to these poems. They are addressed, after all to ‘you,’ to her love. This perspective not only invokes the great tradition in love poems, it holds the reader close. The reader becomes both writer and receiver of these love poems, creating an intensity reminiscent of Sylvia Plath’s “Mad Girl’s Love Song”:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)…
…I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
Fortunately for Jacobs, the lover is real and very much present in body and spirit. Jacobs uses the body to feel her way through the terrain of her poetry, furthering the intimate nature of these poems. When the lover has a health scare, the poet transports us into her lover’s body:
…your right ovary,
ash grey and threatening rain, brindled by firebrick veins. Fat, a cluster
of discarded yolks. And your uterus, an unblossomed
pink peony crawling with fibroids invasive
but benign as a swarm of white ants.
Later when a tumor is found (also benign), it is the speaker’s heart that is imaged through a series of poems that pounce with a familiar fear but palpitate with a new language for it.
Jacobs’s vocabulary and language engages the reader to see what she sees, feel what she feels both physically and emotionally, and to taste her world. It is no surprise then that the part of the body that Jacobs returns to again and again is the mouth. In the poem, “Because You Waited for Me to Fly Your First Kite,” Jacobs give us the lines:
If this summer is a body,
let me be its tongue.
Tasting the green tang of the spittlebug nests
foaming the oat grass, the iron of this
good dirt. A tongue to lick the salt
from your upper lip
The mouth is giver and taker of the sensual, the source of words both hurtful and loving and it is also into the mouth that one take’s God’s offering. In the final lines of the collection’s final poem, “On Our Nightly Walk, She Takes My Hand,” Jacob writes:
…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?
Jacobs leaves the reader with a faint whiff of Emily Dickenson in the perfumed air surrounding these poems. But unlike Dickenson, Jacobs exposes love in its most raw and naked state. In “Thanks, stupid heart,” her heart is:
Flushing and pumping like a jellyfish
going nowhere, stuffed between my lungs’
pink wings like an ugly flightless bird…
…–she was your only
aim, and faithful dumb muscle you are, stupid
beautiful heart, you beat only for her.
Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going chronicles a journey of self, love, and land with language as its jet fuel. But of course, Jacobs is a poet in love with a poet who describes the decision to marry as “why a semi-colon / when a comma might do?” She is a woman in love with another a woman. When they do marry and find themselves on a night flight the next day with “recognition of our marriage dependent, / anyway on which state we were flying over,” the reader is flying along, too, tucked beneath “a scarf the goldenrod yellow of deep joy,” happy to be along for the ride, for wherever Jacobs is going.