- A Question to Ask Once the Honeymoon Is Over
Big around as my bike helmet and high as my ankle, the box turtlewas halfway from my side of the roadto the other. The warm sun felt delicious;my legs, strong, and it was almostto the center line. I hadn't been passed by a carfor miles. Figuring if it was still there, I'd pick it upon the way back, I cycled past.
Years before,the woman across the street was shaped like that turtle,or more like a toadstool, really, squat bellof a body atop the thin stalks of her legs, milky and barebeneath her frayed black housedress. It hurt her to move—cleareven from my second-story window—so she broughther trash out in increments, in small, burstinggrocery bags. She tossed each out the door onto the porch, thennudged them, one step to the next, before easing—carefully,painfully—herself down, a step at a time. Then she toed them,finally, slowly, slowly into a crumpled heap at the curb. I leftmy window to help; then took her trash out every week after. That story— I hadn't yet told it to my wife, had I?
But there was the turnaroundquicker than expected and I spunto find a beat-down bus trailed by all the fuming carsthat hadn't passed me. Steadying my handlebars against the wind,I rode back hard, zigging around crushedsquirrels and tire-splayed birds. [End Page 46]
The turtlewas just where I'd left it, but with the top of its shelltorn away. The dead turtle,a raw red bowl, its blood slashing the twinned yellow linesinto an unequal sign, as in a ≠ b, as in thinking about doing the right thingis not the same as doing it. As in, how many timesdid I watch that old woman shuffle bags down the stairs(really, how many?) before I went from watchingto helping? As in, with my wife beside meI am the woman who does not hesitateto lay down her bike and give a small lifesafe passage. As in, I biked slowlyhome, told no one. As in:
Will she love me less when she learns I am not equal to the person I am when she is watching? [End Page 47]
Jessica Jacobs is the author of Pelvis with Distance (2015), a biography-in-poems of the artist Georgia O'Keeffe, which won the New Mexico Book Award and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. Her second collection is Take Me with You, Wherever You're Going (2019). She is associate editor for Beloit Poetry Journal and lives in North Carolina with her wife, poet Nickole Brown.