The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Elizabeth Jacobson

I Always Know Where to Put My Hands on a Tree


I am outside at the plastic wicker table, under the coco palm
whose golf ball-sized seeds keep dropping on my paper
leaving wet brown spots from the sooty tropical mist,
trying to write a poem with the first line
I always know where to put my hands on a tree,
when a car goes by, mattress on the roof,
two guys in the front seats, each one with an arm out his window,
one hand on each side is all that’s holding the mattress down
as they rush along with everyone else on the busy street.
A German shepherd that lives on the block, sees a stray cat preening itself across the road,
yanks himself free from his person, dashes in front of the car
which jerks to a halt, mattress shooting off like a cannonball
flattening the biker who was crossing the road and texting at the same time.
I always know where to put my hands on a tree,
tip of a branch in my mouth, flesh of its fruit on my lips.
the hog plums have fallen on the sand,
in the shadow of their own canopy.

Today is everyone’s lucky day! The biker is young and sturdy,
her bike remains undamaged.
The men jump out of the car, yelling at the dog in Italian

calling to the girl, Bella Bella, as she speeds away, stuffing her phone in her back pocket.
They chase after the dog, and when they catch it,
bring him back to his person who pretends to smack him on the muzzle with the leash.
I always know where to put my hands on a tree,
this one here, tamarind pods open and sticky, their paste
not sweet, but bursting with sugar just the same.

I had been thinking of ending my poem by trying to explain the smell that comes off the sea
as the sun is rising over it first thing in the morning,
how this heats the water which creates a fragrant salty vapor which mixes with the air,
and that when I open my kitchen window while I am brewing my coffee,
intoxicates me so, and I get this tantalizing feeling
of being, this moment, in the exact right place.
I always know where to put my hands on myself,
like this, sun rising, salt air warming, the sea inside me the tragedy of the living.



Elizabeth Jacobson

Curator of Insects


I started asking questions about how human bodies held together.
Already I was of a certain age,

and not seeing any usual patterns.
My mind had become fuzzier,

mirroring the now fuzzier vision of my eyes.
I read about hymenoptera vision,

how paper wasps and honeybees
can remember the characteristics of a human face.

And since a dragonfly had remembered me,
I knew that this is true for them as well.

Some insects live only a few hours
or a few weeks,

30 days for a fruit fly,

2 months for a horse fly.

I saw the age of the body
might never again match the stretch of its will,

and like Keats, who remarked on the fading animation of his hand
at the end of his life,

there grew a sadness for this former vivacity,
yet unlike Keats, I had joy in its release.

Some of the things I do seem to move backwards.
Others feel as if they have a spherical momentum.

As I grow older, it all appears to taper,
yet there is also a broadening,

and although this is illogical,
this is what happens to people.

The dropping away leaves space,
which quickly floods with small things

like blue-eyed dragonflies in flight,
facing me in the early morning,

or saving an ant from drowning
in a puddle of warm rainwater.

I cultivate flowers and trees for a small variety of bees,
offer them aspen and willow for when they are ailing.

They scrape the resin off the leaves
and secure it to their back legs.

A box elder bug has been resting on the base of the desk lamp for days,
his tender black limbs secured around the cord.

He is close to death, and waiting.
All my life, I tell him, I have been told I should not see the things I see,

the way I see them.

It is too late for all that now.

He turns his head and thorax toward my voice,
his opaque bead eyes red with inquiry.




ELIZABETH JACOBSON is the author of a chapbook, A Brown Stone (Dancing Girl Press), a full-length collection, Her Knees Pulled In (Tres Chicas Books) and Are the Children Make Believe? (forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press, 2017). She directs the WingSpan Poetry Project which conducts poetry classes at local shelters. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in American Poetry Review, Indolent Books, Orion Magazine, Ploughshares, Plume, The Laurel Review, The Miami Rail, and Women’s Studies.



Previous | Next