Jessica Jacobs’s Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going
By Stephanie Trott
June 27, 2019
Jessica Jacobs. Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going. Four Way Books, 2019. 128 pp. $15.95 (paper)
We do not live in a world that prizes aimlessness, where wandering is revered as a necessary stage of coming into one’s own. Our lives become defined by our careers, the lines on a resume, the consecutive years spent living or working in one place. We place blinders on ourselves as we head toward some fixed point on the horizon, always in motion toward an impending, ever-stretching arrival. But stepping away from this path even briefly can be a journey unto itself, one that can come to redirect us toward a place we can build, define, and claim for ourselves.
The trajectory of Jessica Jacobs’s second poetry collection, Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going, mirrors that of an epic narrative. A sharp-witted protagonist leaves home in search of something more, adventures into shadows and self-discovery, and ultimately comes to rest in a place where their experiences and identity are respected and revered rather than ostracized. Here are poems not about fitting in but about belonging, about finding a place that does not ask one to change who they are but instead says there is room for you here as you are.
While these poems are largely about love—for a place, for a person, for the past and our hold on it—the speaker of these poems does not so much want to be in love as she wants to find the places where her love can live. With her, we travel from the muggy mornings of a Floridian adolescence, in a body that climbs bravely into orange trees and runs across golf course greenery in avoidance of crimson-tinged gator glares. Florida is not big enough to hold this voice, but it plays an important role in its clarity and amplification. It’s not you, it’s me, the speaker seems to say, and we can take that at face value; for so many of us, the places where we took our first steps as children are not where we now lay our heads each night. This is a speaker who wants to grow, who knows that there is somewhere, someone, else out there. The aptly titled “Leaving Home” initiates the speaker’s search for such a location:
wildness can live in the suburbs only so long
as it doesn’t bare its teeth; so long as when the light
finds it, it drops its prey and wags its tail;
so long as we confine our darkness to the dark.
Jacobs breaks up with Florida in these poems much in the way that a child distances themselves from a parent as they grow older: wordlessly, slowly, slipping into the night of adulthood but always remembering the familiar darkness of home. We find the speaker in New York City, a gridded metropolis that functions both as a web to hold her and a trampoline to propel her further on her journey; then on to Grecian islands, mixing drinks for sunburned visitors and reflecting in solitude on another island of strangers. She learns of seasons, is perplexed by spring, and ultimately finds this season in a person rather than a late-April rain shower. The road continues to unfold before her, the presence of wind turbines like giants marking the way ahead. “Submerged together,” Jacobs writes, “a turbine’s red light pulsing its beacon / through the rain. Beneath it, your hands / bound me back together.”
The new couple moves together, two bodies adjusting to the ebb and flow of navigating as one. One of the most striking sites they visit is a former fiber farm, where the animals who dwell there are worn and wane. The couple drags a mattress to the hallway of their bedroom, both for privacy and to not see the world beyond their walls, sheltering and protecting and uniting. Like the animals outside, they have found “another of [their] kind” with whom they can be happy. But happiness, like all sentiments, cannot be the singular, omnipotent emotion one experiences as one walks through the world. Jacobs ponders complexities of time, perceptions of herself through the eyes of her beloved, and where the peace of finding home in another person will one day inevitably cease:
Just as the years we weren’t yet together were both
better and worse than those ahead when one of us
will die while the other must stay and remember. Better
in that we did not yet know that magnitude of loss; worse
in that we did not yet know what we would one day have
From “Though we made love in the afternoons”
Married and traveling that same first night, feasting on pretzels somewhere between Santa Barbara and Little Rock, Jacobs’s young couple unknowingly hurtles toward medical diagnoses, tests of self-strength, and questions of whether the people they are when they are alone are as well-intentioned as who they are when they are together. On the page, Jacobs plays with line breaks and empty space, physically embodying the unexpected moments in which we are pulled away from our path and thrown into a space of absence. Painting “survival [as] a balance between stillness and startle,” both are honored equally. She finds inequality painted across a road’s yellow lines in a streak of turtle’s blood, measures the passing of time in how long it takes to consume a bottle of honey, and questions the verity of manmade light as it illuminates a hospital chapel’s stained-glass window. There is something in these moments that echoes the mantra of the old Skin Horse as it comforts the forlorn and forgotten Velveteen Rabbit, tossed away from its child and wrought with scarlet fever: “Real isn’t how you are made. . . . It’s a thing that happens to you.”
Jacobs shows tenderness to her speaker, to her wife, and to the world they pass through. She is contemplative and balances these pensive poems in a way that is both intentional and organic, allowing the reader to, as the title begs, be taken along on a journey regardless of its destination. We are moved through the various stages of becoming, of leaving the familiar and finding the pieces of ourselves in sunsets and dotted white lines, in the worries we hold for our loved ones, in the peace that comes from our subconscious sigh as we cross the threshold into the homes we have made for ourselves. “Let me be a kite that trusts itself to the sky,” writes Jacobs in the poem “Because You Waited for Me to Fly Your First Kite.”
Yes, gravity is inevitable
as death. But why let that desecrate
even a moment of this flight?
Doors and doorways become a repeating image in Jacobs’s poems, themselves portals for the speaker to walk through while additionally functioning as a symbol of life’s comings and goings. A door is one of the most familiar images in our own lives; we walk through doors every day, choose which ones to avoid, occasionally create new ones, and only rarely close any for good. Ripe with meaning and metaphor, the speaker places her hands against doors’ sturdy frame in the poem “Nevertheless” and feels for remnants of her past; even the things we think we have forgotten can be remembered with a single touch, like a chord struck somewhere deep in the soul.
Jessica Jacobs’s poems in Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going echo the underlying human desire to find and experience happiness while never wanting to reach its limit. We want to believe there will be more time, even though time itself will continue long after we are no longer alive to witness its persistence. “Yes, gravity is inevitable / as death,” Jacobs writes in her penultimate poem, “Because You Waited for Me to Fly Your First Kite.” “But why let that desecrate / even a moment of this flight?”
And why would we, should we, do we? Jacobs’s collection is a reminder to remember but not to dwell, to first look for joy within ourselves but to also welcome the joy of another’s presence and, most importantly, to not focus too heavily on where we will end up in favor of where we are now.
Take Me with You, Wherever You're Going by Jessica Jacobs
STEPHANIE C. TROTT lives and writes on the southeastern coast of Massachusetts. She holds an MFA in fiction from the University of North Carolina Wilmington and is a former poetry editor of Ecotone. Her reviews and interviews have been featured in the Rumpus, Winter Tangerine, the Adroit Journal, Split Lip Magazine, and elsewhere. Her fiction appears in Blood Orange Review and New South.