Josephine Jacobsen

In the Crevice of Time

For Elliott Coleman

The bison, or tiger, or whatever beast
hunting or hunted, and the twiggy hunter
with legs and spear, in the still caves of Spain
wore out the million rains of summer
and the mean mists of winter:
the frightening motion of the hunter-priest

who straight in the instant between blood and breath
saw frozen there not shank or horn or hide
but an arrangement of these by him, and he himself
there with them, watched by himself inside
the terrible functionless whole
in an offering strange as some new kind of death.

The thick gross early form that made a grave
said in one gesture, "neither bird nor leaf."
The news no animal need bear was out:
the knowledge of death, and time the wicked thief,
and the prompt monster of foreseeable grief:
it was the tentative gesture that he gave.

Our hulking confrere scraping the wall,
piling the dust over the motionless face:
in the abyss of time how he is close,
his art an act of faith, his grave
an act of art: for all,
for all, a celebration and a burial.

Lion under Maples

The lion, awake, is out there.
What is a lion doing under maples?
The sun catches him. She knows
the calm ferocious face set

in its monstrance of
chrysanthemum shag. The eye
is golden but too far to see.
Now there is no glimpse at all.

But she has met him before
this. And with fortune,
she will. In a clearing,
in the heat, in a wink.

Then she will be left
without fear. With great power;
everything be still,
the great head lift.

Non Sum Dignus

This Sabbath, as all others, finds
The building hushed for love of God,
Save where the thin man, counting, winds
His watch, and children creak and nod

In crowded pews. The money chinks
Discreetly in the moving plate;
Through the stained glass the sunlight winks
On Adam at the Garden-gate.

Hands reach for gloves and rosaries--
"The Mass is ended" comes so soon--
Beyond the window butterflies
Sprinkle with white the burning noon.

The ancient usual retreat
Takes down the steps the scattering horde;
Adam again has met defeat,
Has missed connections with the Lord.

But where the altar-candles die
Waits God, and in a corner prays
The last of heroes who will try
The Gate again in seven days.

from Poems for My Cousin

I Took My Cousin to Prettyboy Dam

I took my cousin to Prettyboy Dam.
A boxer was swimming for sticks, the ripples
Blew from the left, and beer cans glittered
Under the poison-ivy.

We talked of pelota; and of how the tendrils of vines
Curl opposite ways in the opposite hemispheres.
My cousin was dying. By this I mean
The rate of his disengagement was rapid.

There was a haze of heat, and August boys
Chunked rocks at a bottle that bobbed on the water.
The slow hours enclosed the flight of instants,
Melted the picnic ice.

Everything he saw differently, and more clearly than I.
The joined dragon-flies, the solid foam of the fall;
The thin haste of the ant at my foot,
And me, as I looked at him.

We were close beside each other, speaking of
Pelota, chaining cigarettes when the matches were gone.
But we saw different things, since one could not say
"Wait. . ."
Nor the other "Come. . ."

The Monosyllable

One day
she fell
in love with its
heft and speed.
Tough, lean,

fast as light
as a cloud.
It took care
of rain, short

noon, long dark.
It had rough kin;
did not stall.
With it, she said,
I may,

if I can,
sleep; since I must,
Some say,

Gentle Reader

Late in the night when I should be asleep
under the city stars in a small room
I read a poet. A poet: not
A versifier. Not a hot-shot
ethic-monger, laying about
him; not a diary of lying
about in cruel cruel beds, crying.
A poet, dangerous and steep.

O God, it peels me, juices me like a press;
this poetry drinks me, eats me, gut and marrow
until I exist in its jester's sorrow,
until my juices feed a savage sight
that runs along the lines, bright
as beasts' eyes. The rubble splays to dust:
city, book, bed, leaving my ear's lust
saying like Molly, yes, yes, yes O yes.

The Arrivals

My dead are shining like washed gold.
Like gold from what-you-will freed:
cobwebs, mold, rust, the anonymous mud--
and plunged in the icy waver of water
to flash at the hot sun.

They come shining happily inside a moment
translated only now so long after.
They arrive in the comfort of comrades and a
nimbus of silence.

Accurate and able they shine
in ordinary glory
cleared from the clock's confusion that held them
distant, aghast.

Jacobsen, Josephine. In the Crevice of Time: New and Collected Poems. pp. 4, 65, 127, 140, 178, 186, 210. Copyright 1995 Josephine Jacobsen. Reprinted with permission of The Johns Hopkins University Press. http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/title_pages/1776.html.


photo William
Pelham, courtesy
of Poets.org
Josephine (Boylan) Jacobsen was born in Ontario, Canada, in 1908: prematurely, while her parents were on vacation, and was raised in Long Island, New York, until her father died when she was five. Her mother relocated to different towns on the East coast so frequently that Josephine had no formal schooling until the age of 14, when she enrolled in Baltimore's Roland Park Country Day School. Although she did not go on to college, her experience at Roland Park and with private tutors served as a foundation for a distinguished literary career, during which she published poetry, essays and reviews (often for The Baltimore Sun), and short stories. After graduating from high school in 1926, she joined a Baltimore theater troupe, the Vagabond players, and maintained an interest in theater throughout her life.
photo courtesy of
The Library of
In 1932, she married Eric Jacobsen, and happily remained with him until his death in 1995. While raising her only child, Erlend, Jacobsen gained writing time during residencies at the Yaddo and MacDowell writers' colonies and during winter vacations to the Caribbean. Although she steadily published poetry books with small presses from the 1940s into the 1960s, her work gained recognition with her appointment as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1971, when she was 63. She subsequently received many additional honors and awards, including the Shelley Memorial Award for lifetime service to literature, from the Poetry Society of America, 1993; election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1994; the Poetry Society of America's Robert Frost Medal, 1997; and many honorary degrees. She died in 2003.


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Meredith Bergmann: My work has always seemed cut out for me. I give myself assignments or I take commissions to find challenges to make heroic work in which the themes must be expressed with beauty and with irony. Light touches on dark subjects help me break away what's monolithic or opaque. No thing, for me, embodies mystery, gives life to clay, or conveys narrative enduringly as can the human form. Loving to sculpt and to manipulate ideas, I'm happiest when I can give new meaning to old urges, or can warm a concept into art that's worth its weight.
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