James Croal Jackson’s poetry has appeared in The Bitter Oleander, Rust + Moth, Whale Road Review, and other publications. He is the winner of the 2016 William Redding Memorial Poetry Prize via The Poetry Forum in his current city of Columbus, Ohio. Visit him at jimjakk.com.
The days when we would lay
on blue towels by the beach
combing through our Merriam-Webster
holding every fascinating word by the stems in our mouths,
our vibrancy was inseparable from gardens
full of hyacinths and rhododendron and zinnias
and, yes, forsythias, all these flowers in our hometowns
we never knew the names of
until we saw the words on sand-shorn pages,
said the names out loud, grasped endlessly
for petals in each other. No, we bloomed
laughter from our throats, planted seeds
into pits where absence grows in ensuing Aprils.
We never knew what words might appear
on Scrabble nights hunched over grids of possibility and–
strings of letters string surprising words together.
Marionettes, spider webs, violins, shoelaces,
your hair among the rules of nature, and nurture,
here nurturing the garden, here the home
where we tend other flowers– all my love,
I repeated. Forsythia, forsythia, forsythia.
But those beach days were distant, the tide slurring
softly alongside my returns from long unexplainable workdays–
all my love, I repeated.For Cynthia.
Wooden tiles tornadoed to the floor, slapping
the carpet with words we had not invented yet–
there is no remedy for lost trust. The flame
already sleeps in the bed of the mouth.
Cynthia, Cynthia. I did not know a Cynthia–
but I had never been able to name a forsythia
in the wild. The next time I see one
will feel like cheating. Nothing too-known is magical–
there is wonder in inventing nomenclature,
that a word like forsythia can only be made
in moments like anesthesia, with darkness descending
like the cigarette clouds of a severe storm when, in the drift
into a new consciousness, a lilac floats your mind’s pond–
a lilac, maybe, though that’s not what you want,
and maybe, in the distance, you see the blossoming
yellow that accompanies spring, the air golden around it–
the beauty that’s grander than words.
You wish you never learned the name for it.
In darkness we find a train:
engine active, body inert.
We walk the adjacent rail’s
delineated steel, waiting for a sign.
A spotlight from the city’s purple heart
shoots starward into clear, and the train
barks at something we cannot hear.
We scamper through the brush,
our clothes and hair full of sticks–
strays rising rapidly into the cold wind
of suburbs, on the hunt for something
that will make us whole.