Two Poems by Jessica Jacobs

“And Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac.”—Genesis 31:53

Personal Injury Parents

Before every county fair, they recited the damages
from last year’s lawsuits. So later,

as moths threw themselves at the lesser moons
strung along the fairway, the night 

flushed sweet with the grease of funnel cakes, with bass 
pulsing cheap speakers and the heat of a whole

town’s teenage anticipation, instead of thrilling 
to the moment that girl from math class 

got so scared on the Gravitron she grabbed my hand 
and held it, my head swam with the tally of teeth 

lost to sudden stops, the number of fingers 
severed. Didn’t I know what could happen? 

How many ways the world had to hurt me.
Back when muscling a massive rock from atop a well 

was the closest thing going to a strongman game, 
Jacob met his love Rachel and wept. Rashi said 

he foresaw her early death. But who thinks of death
at the very moment their new life begins?

On a lonely mountain, as the sun caught the knife 
his grandfather had raised above his father Isaac’s neck, 

Abraham’s eyes were still scorched from seeing 
Sodom consumed to ash, from witnessing what happens

when we don’t do what God asks: those burnings 
dimming Isaac’s eyes as he announced to his sons

his imminent death—in a masterstroke 
of Jewish guilt—fifty years before 

he actually died: all of it searing up in Jacob’s throat 
in that moment of first meeting. 

My mother’s college roommate 
killed herself; my father, raised in a world 

cruel to women, has three daughters. She said
it made her afraid of feeling too much; 

he grasped too hard, wincing as we grew
beyond the protection of his arms. 

Death meditations of our forefathers, pain 
of our parents winding our genes tight as wisteria, 

reaching, always reaching for another part of us 
to bind to, whispering out when we least expect it.

All winter long I misremember Roethke (I learn by fearing 
where I have to go) and can’t let my wife leave 

without saying, I love you. Be careful. Don’t die.
Separate from damaged property, “personal” is an injury 

to the body, mind, or spirit. My given counsel— 
unhired, unfireable, their undisclosed 

hourly rate accruing for an unnamed future date—despite 
their body counts, their relentless reminders of my

mortality, my parents never mentioned the fear 
that brings us closer, that whinnies up from your knees 

to lean you against the one you love, or how trembling 
sets you in harmony with the elemental 

strands of all matter. As that creaking, poorly-rigged
contraption spun us into the dark air, the neon 

Tilt-a-Whirl screaming below, there was that girl’s 
scared sacred hand, hot in mine. Our whole lives 

a fairway lined with dicey enticements, with joy 
available for those willing to chance a ride.


“Jacob is now married to two women: a storm of emotion…replaces the calm harbor of fulfillment.”—Avivah Zornberg

The Hendiadys of Marriage

As “milk and honey” signal abundance, 
“image and likeness” that we are 
chips off God’s block, so the Torah advises, 
why use one word when two 
                                        will do better?

Jacob was hendiadys par excellence.
Crooked heel-sneak, willing 
to scam a blind old man, he was also
Israel, able to wrestle from God
the blessing of his true name. 

Surely as Jacob married Rachel and 
her sister, Rachel married 
both those men.

And aren’t each of us who are married
married to many people: the one 
we knew, we thought, who drew us; 
the one who emerges those times 
we say, Oh, you’re not yourself today—
a gentle chiding that the person I 
married wouldn’t act this way; and 
the one who delights you by knowing 
every bird on your walk by song alone.

Despite being a mother of monotheism,
Rachel loved the household gods 
enough to steal them from her father. 
Tzarah, one Midrash calls them, another
name for “rival wife.” 

Yet which is the true partner and which the rival? 
Who they are now or whom they’ll strive for? 
The one we wanted or the one we have, 
or the potential one
we can’t yet fathom? 

Despite having never hiked a day 
before we married—the outdoors 
viewed as not invitation but specter—
my wife now strolls the trails with ease, 
naming plants along the way: the eerie 
eruptions of ghost pipe, the pom-pommed 
exuberance of mountain angelica. 

Marriage a mutual 
View-Master: two images at once 
not just tolerable but necessary 
for depth of vision, which is itself
a trick of the eye: that woman, confident 
in the woods, able to name what she sees, 
that girl sure she’ll lose herself 
among the trees—the illusion 

of one image when both remain. 
The wonder of the multitudes 
we each contain. The painful, joyful 
expansion of loving both, loving 
all, of welcoming change.

photo by Lily Darragh
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, she lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with her wife, the poet Nickole Brown, with whom she co-authored Write It! 100 Poetry Prompts to Inspire (Spruce Books / PenguinRandom House), and is at work on a collection of poems exploring spirituality, Torah, and Midrash.