Personal Injury Parents

by Jessica Jacobs

Before every county fair, they recited the damages
from last year’s lawsuits. So later,

as moths threw themselves at the lesser moons
strung along the fairway, the night

flushed sweet with the grease of funnel cakes, with bass
pulsing cheap speakers and the heat of a whole

town’s teenage anticipation, instead of thrilling
to the moment that girl from math class

got so scared on the Gravitron she grabbed my hand
and held it, my head swam with the tally of teeth

lost to sudden stops, the number of fingers
severed. Didn’t I know what could happen?

How many ways the world had to hurt me.
Back when muscling a massive rock from atop a well

was the closest thing going to a strongman game,
Jacob met his love Rachel and wept. Rashi said

he foresaw her early death. But who thinks of death
at the very moment their new life begins?

On a lonely mountain, as the sun caught the knife
his grandfather had raised above his father Isaac’s neck,

Abraham’s eyes were still scorched from seeing
Sodom consumed to ash, from witnessing what happens

when we don’t do what God asks: those burnings
dimming Isaac’s eyes as he announced to his sons

his imminent death—in a masterstroke
of Jewish guilt—fifty years before

he actually died: all of it searing up in Jacob’s throat
in that moment of first meeting.

My mother’s college roommate
killed herself; my father, raised in a world

cruel to women, has three daughters. She said
it made her afraid of feeling too much;

he grasped too hard, wincing as we grew
beyond the protection of his arms.

Death meditations of our forefathers, pain
of our parents winding our genes tight as wisteria,

reaching, always reaching for another part of us
to bind to, whispering out when we least expect it.

All winter long I misremember Roethke (I learn by fearing
where I have to go) and can’t let my wife leave

without saying, I love you. Be careful. Don’t die.
Separate from damaged property, “personal” is an injury

to the body, mind, or spirit. My given counsel—
unhired, unfireable, their undisclosed

hourly rate accruing for an unnamed future date—despite
their body counts, their relentless reminders of my

mortality, my parents never mentioned the fear
that brings us closer, that whinnies up from your knees

to lean you against the one you love, or how trembling
sets you in harmony with the elemental

strands of all matter. As that creaking, poorly-rigged
contraption spun us into the dark air, the neon

Tilt-a-Whirl screaming below, there was that girl’s
scared sacred hand, hot in mine. Our whole lives

a fairway lined with dicey enticements, with joy
available for those willing to chance a ride.

Last updated January 29, 2024