- POETRY -
POSTCARDS TO NORTH CAROLINA, FROM A NORTHERNMOST ISLAND
ISSUE THIRTEEN | FALL 2019
Thasos, Greece → Asheville, NC
And, to your left, a monastery from the Byzantine; but first, a skirt to shroud your vulgar knees. Just past the sanctuary, note the powder-strewn bowl. The nuns—short, musky, and full of God—make a Greek version of Turkish delight: flowery loukumi that melts in the mouth like a rose coming undone on your tongue. While it melts, take in the vast blue view from their terrace, the pair of seagulls who twine overhead.
But just a week ago, another view: After staggering
with box after box from the moving van up our new front steps,
I explored with a run. Past the video store and boarded-up
gas station, the BBQ joint and froyo stand, with my hands
empty, it was like I was floating. Up a road so steep I feared
I’d flip over, there was a young black bear loping
from the underbrush, mist out over a valley of trees
of which I’m still learning the names.
On this island, if, instead of stones, a river ran over a bed of bells,
that’s the sound of the sheep in the hills behind us.
In those hills, terraced groves of olive trees. One so old its base is nearly big around as its crown, its gnarled bark braided and riddled with deep bowls—a honeycombed hive of a tree, a Wailing Wall with nooks enough to tuck away a lifetime of prayers.
In those hills, the bones of a long dead goat: one horn at the base of a juniper, the other in the shadow of a boulder. Its skull is drydocked in my palm, a dumb boat of bone, ferrying nothing. After this many years, death has no odor; leaning in, I smell only my own sweat, my life insisting.
Three years of criss-crossing the country in search
of a place we could settle and never want to leave. A place
where, decades later, I could look at my wife in the same
bedroom in which we’d once been young, remembering
how the light there first fell on our faces.
In the cols of the marble quarry, the sun crisps seawater into a slick wafer of salt. Pressing my lips to it is like licking the island’s collarbone and tasting the sweat in its hollows.
The only day it really rains, beneath the massed black of the storm cloud, lightning stitches the sky to the sea.
In the summer, it rains there almost daily. Afternoons
ring with that good thunder, our sweet yellow dog
whimpering into a ball at my feet. I pet him
and write, reassuring us both.
Outside our rented room, the whole garden is edible: fig and loquat trees, corn with its tasseled fountains, the green fists of peppers. And in the red-light district of the raised bed, sun-warm tomatoes spill their seeds across our chins.
Our landlady—a widow in black tank top, black cut-offs—stoops among the zucchini vines and emerges with a torch of golden blossoms. Later we discover them on our balcony, stuffed with rice and herbs.
Her granddaughter is eight, yet already weary; she says everything with small fists pressed to what are not yet hips. While she directs imaginary fleets on the patio below, we find each other in the white sheets. We come to pleasure quietly, with small sighs and laughter at her stern commands to the air—her every Greek word an avowal, a passion play better in a language we are for once thankful not to speak.
Yet, still I think of our stateside town in its bowl of mountains.
With old money to the east and new money to the west, our neighborhood
is a scruffy pie-slice of streets, where only every third house has found
someone to love it and clean its face. And our house—
which drawer did we choose for the utensils? All the books
are finally on their proper shelves, yet art still leans in bubble wrap
against the baseboards, awaiting our return.
Here, the sea has tipped each of the fine blond hairs on your stomach with a bead of salt, making of your belly a wetland of cattails nodding lazy in the breeze.
But there, just off our porch, the weeping cherry tree blazes
so pink it’s visible even in the dark; its cascading
branches a bivouac of blossoms like nothing so much
as your hair tenting my chest in our bed.
Perhaps this is what it means to finally
have a true home: even in paradise
you long for the place
that is yours.
Jessica Jacobs is the author of Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going (Four Way Books) and Pelvis with Distance (White Pine Press), winner of the New Mexico Book Award in Poetry and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award.
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