Image by Juliana Toro

Poetry New History

Jessica Laser

Maybe the worst thing about American Puritanism is the position it forces its opponents into. 

— Robert Hass


Jimmy, when we say sorry, is it I love you in disguise?
Everyone does it, marries the
Stranger, taboo to do it otherwise. When we say we don’t
Understand, is it I could put my faith in you,
Someone I don’t really know?

Compared to us
He was a
Rabbi. One thing
I want to make clear: these are my prayers. I don’t
Say them to him, but against him,
The way your child leaned against my chest.


Jubilant is how I felt when I fell for my
Equal, and not, finally,
Someone too old or too dumb for me. As the
Uvula to the throat we are
Shape note singing,
Collaborators in
Harmony. I was
Replacing my speaker when
I met you, at Best Buy,
Seeking to amplify that which lies beyond
Thought. You were what I bought.


Joking, you said, you must be joking. I said I saw an
Eagle on the roof, some kind of omen related to the
Seeing of all things from above and what
Unity could such a vision provide? Spend how you want the
Sixtyish years you have left of your life, you said. You
Could spend them with me but you’d
Have to choose to. I said I could spend them even more
Righteously: celibate, in prayer, but still
It wouldn’t be to your god. If you’re going to blame
Sex for this discord, don’t
Tell me. Tell it to the priest behind the grate.


Justice I seek I attribute to
Envy: I want what I don’t
See in myself, feel myself
Undeniably to be. Justice sees me
Slipping between my wish and my reality
Calm as a person who knows
How to sleep, keeping her
Right eye closed while her left, her left
Interprets the ceiling, which, too, is a myth, or so says C.
S. Lewis. I’m mostly just jealous of you,
Truth, whom so many men have devoted their lives to.


Just came to see if I could, without mentioning you, if
Even a small pocket remained you had not infiltrated,
Swore not to touch, on the grave of your Jewish mother who outlived you.
Unbeknownst to us, we were the small split one
Side grew large from, so large it made me think a thing
Created to withstand doubt is built less to last than make
Hereditary. Ancestor, did we nourish you poorly? Why did you
Rise to spite us? We take care of our own. That’s action, not an
Ideal. You died for something we won’t let
Separate our


Jessica is to be pitied, for she is among the
Elect who don’t know this myth
Situated as fact in the womb of the one
Ultimatum god ever gave us: kill my son.
Sir, I’d have said, the boy is mine. Of course
We’d have to change the law to accommodate such
A father: he’s otherwise the mother’s faith if
Sired by her. What could we have done to prevent this? Finish what
Abraham started, the wood, no ram, and Isaac dead? We’d be
Just as bad, justifying the present by recasting the past. Oh,
Entertain us for a little while, god, before the
Weather burns or freezes, tell us a


Juicy story about the birth of history, a boy
Evil is not the point of, how to fall, temptation
Snaking up our legs, pants to which apples are secondary, how you
Unstuck yourself from eternity that time you
Snuck inside a womb, where women take
Crude time and make a life of it,
Halving their own, leaving such
Residue as must be measured
In religion, half-lives, Judaism’s
Shining drawer of radium, reserved for
Those who choose science instead.


January: before I met you, I had not heard
Enough to judge. I’d only
Seen the highway billboards warning
Unbelievers of imminent accident, read
Salinger for whom you are a sage like any other,
Complete with thorny, convoluted text. What kind of
Hero goes around proclaiming divine parenthood?
Ridiculous as Icarus, Phaeton
In the Lookingglass production of Metamorphoses
Struts the stage like the
Teenager of a celebrity: “My father this.” “My father that.”


Judgmental, judicious, joy-denying, as
Easy to hate as desire, is it even love if it
Stripes your uniform? My
Uterus could have carried any one of you
Slippery sons of god,
Could have delivered any one of you
Headstrong heliotrope hufflepuffers who know all
Relationships are with the mother and
Intuit precisely when to be born on a
Spinning planet that has been waiting for you
To put your finger on it, as on a spinning top.


Jamba Juice still makes the mango one
Elizabeth and I used to get, a
Smoothie and a cheese pretzel with it
Until this proved antagonistic to our young life’s project: being
Skinny, what our culture
Calls disordered eating, unless something
Holy comes of it — then it’s called fasting:
Rainforest preservation, prophecy, genius (measured
Intellectually), atonement, Gandhi, prisoners released,
Simone Weil. Such a smoothie would be
Too sweet for me now.


Jazz and classical, Joni and Taylor, Springsteen and the
E Street Band, August Wilson, Wyatt, musicals and plants
Share this: soul. Yes, it is its own genre, I know, but
Under whose reign was it yanked clean of governing policy,
Set between mountain and desert, in a
Correlation of height and dust? Who said
Human life began at all, let alone that
Reproduction requires conception?
It’s one big line we
Stand in, goes back and ahead farther than we can
Tell. We don’t know our place.


Juggling, the blur of the balls, tells the arc of
Eternal motion, but these are no longer my prayers.
Save yourself. I
Unbraid from you completely, but so
Slowly it takes a lifelong motion
Capture video to prove I moved my
Hair a strand. There’s no
Replacement for color now that all
Is gray and white. It’s the end of our life.
Sing a closing song for me and I’ll
Teach you to live forever.


Jenny light, Jenny darkness: James Wright
Enjoyed writing by some personal candle that
Shone in his brain. What I love about James,
Underneath the certainty preexisting admiration
Shapes opinion into, is the way his poems
Civilize the dead — “I don’t blame you” — life a
Heat love can be expended like, finite, with no
Return, or can, as an activity,
Increase the meaning of energy, the way a particle
Signals the presence of a wave. I love any action
That makes me stay.


Jimmy, I love you. Do I tell you
Enough? I love your frown over a
Stupid book of philosophy, how
Unprepared you were to meet me, how I
Surprise you with your own laugh. If I were yours, I’d be
Constant, light as the cost of divorce is
Heavy. Let me cover your
Retainer. Blame me.
Invite me to dinner.
Spell my name in Hebrew letters. Give me a
Thorough tour. Me, outsider no more.


Just when you thought it was
Ending, everything began. The
Sun rose upon the infected
Ur-planet, still arguably green and blue from
Space. Shadows cast by the
Central fire clothe our
Home, so deep in earth, a
Retiring form beloved of the
Insolent, inside which we
Sit like radiance,
Tutored by light, still learning.


Journeymen and the rest of us teach
Ease to the
Sufferers out there laboring
Unduly, who have mistaken
Strain for work, authority for power, information for wisdom,
Confused dudes who bumble
Haphazardly from one concern to the next,
Reeling from false
Insight the way a child goes down a
Slide. One trains instead for a netless
Tennis match, resulting in that most desirable score.


What happens in Wimbledon stays in Wimbledon. Lasting
Attachments still must be made, just not to
Serena, nor to any particular outcome of her game.
Alternative histories abet the passage of time which
Juts out ahead, predicting, predicting. On that
Everyone places a bet, jealous of the future
Winner, insistent that it cannot be all.


Juniper makes gin as
Elephants make ivory as
Silkworms make… duh.
Utility: “I belong,” am of
Some use.

Collect my store into your
Harvest, take all I have a
Right to offer. Let me not offer what
I have no right to.
Spare my love from fear. Let him rejoice
Let him rejoice
His love is
I have given it back.
Show me it was mine
To give.

Jessica Laser is the author of the poetry collections Planet Drill and Sergei Kuzmich from All Sides.