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By Jessica Jacobs

Inspired by midrash, a rabbinic mode of biblical interpretation, Jessica Jacobs’s unalone involves etymological disambiguation, epigraphs, and spiritual questioning centered around the Book of Genesis, including its stories of Joseph, and of Jacob wrestling with God. Jacobs’s ventriloquizing of Eve, Sarah (“Matriarch of my line”), Hagar, Rachel, and Dinah restores primacy to the feminine, while, in a series of poems titled “And God Speaks,” foregrounding the creationary power of language—performative speech for God, and writing for poets: “Each word / carries what it names inside // and […] finds its form / in the moment of its speaking.”

unalone’s invocations of maternal, queer, and erotic love and Biblical figures are emphasized as connective “overstory” based on balance and integration, whereas God is figured as complete: “The holiness of that / wholeness. Of what rises to meet it.” Such rising, intimacy with a beloved, and Augustinian self-examination constitute the book’s divinatory arc:

listen: the soft separation
of stalks from the dirt, the green
grind of their teeth. Each living thing
is its own call to attention.

While this quest is fraught (“How do you listen for a sound you’ve never heard?”), Jacobs shows the reader the polyvalent meanings of foundational religious doctrine, including the biblical injunction to obey: “Obey, obey, obey is everywhere // in translation. The real word is / […] shema: listen.”

unalone’s sublime resplendence is steeped in sorrow, longing, anger, and grief. The art of recognizing “The still // small voice you’ve known / all your life” animates the book’s 12 sections, which render the parshiyot (portions) of Genesis through ancestral and contemporary lenses, including moving poems about impending maternal loss. “That We May Live and Not Die: A Deep-Time Report on Climate Refugees” opens “on the riverbank” with Joseph’s interpretations of Pharaoh’s dreams portending famine; it closes with a prophetic reminder: “a. Remember / i. these stories are old ones. / (a) and they repeat.”

Mindful of “a promise // transcending the present,” Jacobs avows that “We become // what is burned into us” in a darkroom of the material world, with an imperative of arresting beauty: “Let us // aperture. Let us dilate. What lasts / is what is found // by light.”

Reviewed By Virginia Konchan
Cover of Unalone by Jessica Jacobs
Publisher Four Way Books
Pages 210
Date March 15, 2024
Price $17.95