paper • 210 pages • 17.95
ISBN: 978-1-954245-82-2
eISBN: 978-1-954245-83-9
March 2024 • Poetry


Jessica Jacobs

Starred review from Library Journal

Make a fence, said the rabbis, around the Torah,” reads the first line of Jessica Jacobs’ unalone. By the end of this opening poem, however, Jacobs has defined her engagement with religious texts as an act of devotion to living fully in the world’s complexity: “Here, love, is fruit with the sun still inside it. Let me // thumb the juice from your chin. Let us honor what we love / by taking it in.” Structured around the twelve parshiyot (portions) of Genesis, the trajectory of unalone parallels immersion in Jewish teachings with the contemporary world. Whether conversing with the sacred texts she reads or writing from her subjects’ perspectives, Jacobs navigates an abundance of experiences: growing up queer, embracing one’s sexuality, reversing roles as the adult child of aging parents, wrestling with religious history and the imposed roles of womanhood, exploring how the past foreshadows our current climate crisis, and revisiting the blush of new love while cataloging the profound, though more familiar, joys of a long relationship.

Deeply personal and yet universal in its truths, unalone draws on the Book of Genesis as a living document whose stories, wisdom, and ethical knots can engage us more fully with our own lives – whatever your religious tradition or spiritual beliefs. In this stunning and ambitious book, Jacobs reminds us that all poetry serves as a kind of prayer – a recognition of beauty, a spoken bid for connection, a yearning toward an understanding that might better guide us through our days. When you “dive / from the twin heights of your eyes,” “that tiny pool below” isn’t God. “Well, not exactly,” Jacobs comforts us. “It’s you. One breath deeper than you’ve / ever been, one breath closer to the heeded, heedful world.”

from “Mazel Tov”

So, if I wish you, mazel tov,

know what I’ll mean is,
May you live beneath good stars

and find a reason to open
your door to the night.

From the deck, the cool breeze makes a festival
of the silver-lit leaves. Under my palm,

the warmth of his fur, the rise of his ribs.
He doesn’t suspect his kidneys

are failing, that his muzzle is white
as the winter the vet has said he will

not live to see. Like all of us, he is
dying; like most of us, he doesn’t

know it. His chin on my leg, he trusts me
with the weight of his head.

May the darkness be as much
a blessing as the stars.

Praise from Burton Visotzky
Praise from Sean Singer
Praise from Joy Ladin
Praise from Spencer Reece
Praise from Barbara Hoffert in Library Journal Starred Review

Like our matriarch Serah, the Torah’s first poet, Jessica Jacobs opens the Book of Genesis to her readers like a gate “with an easy latch and well-oiled hinges.” She takes the time to notice, allowing readers to hear “a sound they know so well” as though they’ve never heard it. Jacobs is this generation’s immaculate poet of the tents, taking us back to ourselves, fully. She amplifies “the still small voice you’ve known all your life,” so through her deep wisdom you remember you are unalone.

—Burton Visotzky
Appleman Professor of Midrash Emeritus, Jewish Theological Seminary
Rabbi and author of Reading the Book: Making the Bible a Timeless Text and The Genesis of Ethics: How the Tormented Family of Genesis Leads Us to Moral Development

Jessica Jacobs’s unalone seeks and reframes the light of Genesis, poem by poem. Out of strangeness and curiosity, her poems continue pushing into the unknown of Genesis. Her poems are the inner life of what Genesis means, in all its vials, structures, voices, and signs. Sensitively aware of Genesis as a living document, the poems use the etymology of its words to show moments where its meanings in our lives are perceptible and barely perceptible. The poems are spoken in a textured, female voice and also show how women in Genesis are not tourists, but integral to its untranslatable song. It’s a fascinating, crafted, and authoritative book.

—Sean Singer, Author of Today in the Taxi (winner of the National Jewish Book Award)

Lost Edens and losing a parent, love and marriage, climate change, what it means for a human being to be “a conduit for the divine” – these are only a few of the subjects unalone addresses seriously and sensuously, reaching deep into Jewish tradition and personal experience, and, stretching expansively, exuberantly, beyond them. Along the way, unalone offers a master class in modern midrash, a series of dazzling demonstrations of how ruminating on and reimagining ancient Biblical stories can offer new ways of wrestling with the most contemporary of problems: dementia, mass shootings, pandemic, marginalization, the long shadows cast by slavery and genocide, the stochastic and institutionalized terrorisms fostered by what their perpetrators call faith. No matter her subject, throughout Jacobs’ flowing, varied verse, soul-opening epigrams suddenly appear – “a zodiac of branch-bound constellations,” “sprinklers stuttered covenants of rainbows,” “you must leave the place that grew you to grow toward better stars” – as unalone summons us to realize that “Perfectly imperfect, each of us / is a new way of saying.”

—Joy Ladin, Author of Shekhinah and The Book of Anna

Jessica Jacobs plays the Bible like a klezmer. She’s serious. She’s whimsical. She’s sorrowful. She’s kind. She’s measured. She midrashes Genesis to bend the Bible until the verses speak to a queer Jewish poet. Her ambition? “To zip myself into Judaism.” Making space where there had been none. “No husband, no children, her songs / were her progeny,” she writes. Lucid, deft, circumspect, generous, sagacious, she gets down on her poetic knees and plants a green new tree of knowledge. Jacobs seeds, stakes, pollinates, flourishes, blooms.

—Spencer Reece, Presbyterian Minister and Author of The Clerk’s Tale & The Road to Emmaus, and a poet’s memoir, The Secret Gospel of Mark

This poetry collection makes our hungers radiant.