“Primer” by Jessica Jacobs

Jessica Jacobs


A Florida child knows the safest part
of a lake is the middle. That gators
and moccasins shade in the lilies, hunker
at the shoreline in the muck right past
the trucked-in sand. Knows a baby snake
means a mother’s nearby, angry.
That to kill her, you must bring a shovel
down just behind her skull—leave
too much tail and the headed half will
keep coming at you. To run zigzag if a gator
gives chase, their squat digger legs built
for speed, not for turning. Has a friend
who has a friend who lost a thumb
to a snapping turtle; has worn lizards
as earrings, watched lake-caught minnows
devour a store-bought birthday
goldfish. Has been dragged on a field trip
to a sinkhole wide as a city block, though
that measurement was not yet known:
a red truck at the bottom, wheels up;
along with half a house and a wreck
of toys and books. Has been told it happened
on a day like any other. Has gone home
to tread water at the lake’s calming
center; cool streamers of springs fluttering
her thighs, the sun a constant; the sucking
sound of a bath plug pulled, her imagination.

from Rattle #37, Summer 2012

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Jessica Jacobs: “Raised in the cultural barrens of suburban Central Florida, I moved away as soon as I could. Yet no matter how captivating my later places of residence, in dreams I more often than not return to the childhood home that was bulldozed when I was sixteen, to the lake on which I learned to water ski, to the scraggly man-made shore on which I killed my first snake.” (web)

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