Take Me With You, Wherever You’re Going by Jessica Jacobs (Four Way Books, 2019)
Reviewed by Risa Denenberg
To read Jessica Jacobs’ newest poetry collection, Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going (Four Way Books, 2019) is to start out where she began in her first collection, Pelvis with Distance (White Pine Press, 2015; winner of the New Mexico Book Award in Poetry) and left off in In Whatever Light Left to Us (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2016). Each book in this trilogy performs an aria of lesbian love and lesbian sexuality that earns its encore.
An immense amount of research and soul-searching went into the writing of Pelvis with Distance. I greatly admire the boldness in this inspired project in which Jacobs spent a month alone surrounded by desert, books, her dog, and a mission to write poems about Georgia O’Keefe—a fiercely independent artist, intimately bound with a partner who is also an artist. In this collection, through a handful of interstitial poems, each titled “In The Canyon,” Jacobs wrestles (and it is too delicious to avoid saying) with her angel—the unnamed woman left behind but longed for. Her challenge is both personal and existential: how to hold onto a separate self while being in love with a woman who is also a poet.
Much like O’Keefe, Jacobs has an independent streak and is intimately bonded with her wife, the poet Nickole Brown. Her writings reveal her ardent love for Brown, alongside other fervent passions: long distance running, spiritual probing, a love of dogs. In Pelvis with Distance, she laments, “An unshared life is only // half lived.” Then in all three books we find this sigh, “The weight of her breasts in my palms as she straddled my hips.” The image itself is startling, its repetition is powerful.
In an interview with Stacey Balkun, published at The Normal School Literary Magazine (11/20/18) when Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going was forthcoming, Jacobs described her state of mind during the writing this way:
“I wrote the poems in this book to help me better understand how to be the partner and person I wanted to be, as well as to create a kind of poetic photo album of early marriage in all its complexity and joy.”
So, where we have a lone woman seeking herself by chasing her muse in Pelvis with Distance, we find a woman experiencing new love in Whatever Light Left to Us and a married woman reckoning with who she is in relationship in Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going. Jacobs sounds the depths of her subject equally in all three.
One by one, the threads that are picked up in the first two books sew a cloth that covers the marriage of two women. These threads include escape from childhood in “To Florida,”
“ All I wanted was to grow old enough
to leave you.
Florida, we never had a chance.”
There is the strand of youthful desire for other women’s bodies in “Sex, Suddenly, Everywhere,”
it was all I could do to keep my clothes on. To keep from moaning
And here, there is the loneliness of long distance running in “Out of the Windfields,”
“ Grid by grid,
I logged my miles, the hours
on my feet, but kept true account of nothing
so much as my loneliness.”
There is a good bit of running in these poems—running towards, running away. The preface poem, “If Marriage Means Someone Who Will Always Come Looking: A Fable” is about a run, first with the partner, and then separating, and finally bound. There is also a great deal of traveling (another sort of running) with her partner, the enactment of constant searching, restlessness, and eagerness for experience, a trait that apparently started early in Jacobs’ life. In the poem, “13th Birthday and Something Told Me to Wake Early,” we find,
“ I wanted to be
anywhere else, I wanted to be, suddenly, with
Some of Jacobs’ most lyrical and sensual writing is about lesbian sex (not an easy topic to do well). In “Your mouth to me,” the title glides right into the first lines of the poem,
“is like after a long run, when I ease
my tiredness into a hot bath.”
And in the same poem, this:
“ Slick husk of sweat
loosed like the kiss of oil from a pan—
each freed drop, a small gold world
ascending the dark water
to galaxy the soap suds.”
Then later, in “In Wyoming,”
until I am blanched as a boiled tomato and a single touch
is all it would take to part my skin in a neat seam, a touch
to peel back this pored, porous façade so I can drift down and
settle inside her like steam.”
A series of poems about a frightening diagnosis, much testing, surgery, and anxious waiting—all of which resolve well—presents the opportunity to define what loss of a partner might mean. In “Nevertheless,” the fragility of any life is described this way:
“ cancer, one step
off the wrong curb, one moment when the heart forgets
to keep time.”
But Jacob questions her blessings spiritually,
“ Why others, though,
and not us?
I know nothing
that makes us worthy
of such consideration.”
Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going is foremost a love story penned by an introvert who writes, runs, falls in love, and marries. It is filled with love poems and, while some are just shy of sentimental, they all hit their mark with lyricism and probing. Jacobs’ identity as a Jewish woman with a deeply formed spiritual life is found here too. In “Kina Hora” (a Yiddish expression used to ward off the evil eye), she finds it hard to explain herself, even to her wife, preferring to keep a grandmother’s superstitions to herself,
“My Jewish upbringing demands I be frightened
of such uncomplicated happiness.”
I would be amiss to leave out Jacobs’ deep connection with the natural world, which carries over from Pelvis with Distance into Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going. I admire Jacobs’ talent and lyricism whatever her subject matter. I look forward to her next book, one that employs her deep spiritual questing and affinity for herstory. Finally, I offer this personal disclosure: even this unpartnered lesbian poet, lover of cats and solitude, is not immune to the weight of consummate love. And would it be possible for me, for anyone, to resist a lover who says, “you fill my heart with koi / and dahlias”?