Lit/South Awards 2022
Poetry Judge

Jessica Jacobs

Ordinary Immanence

In New York, sidewalks were so crowded it was easier
to walk in the street, and three stories up
from all the elbows and breath, always
the same city dream: in the back

                     of my cramped apartment, a door

I’d somehow not seen. I’d press my ear to it
and hear the cavernous echo
of air arcing through hidden, innumerable rooms,
rooms I owned but had never entered.

Many years, many states away, in a far

                     more spacious place, at the braking

of a garbage truck, at the creak and hoist
of its mechanical arm pinioning a block’s-length

                                                  of bins to hoist and dump, I look up

from a book and know (the truck outside
rumbling away, my waste fraternizing with the waste

                     of my neighbors) that I want

to believe in God. Just like that—a new door
in a room I thought I knew by heart.

My hand is on the doorknob now, my ear
to the grain.

But what I hear

                 is the crackling hum

                        of light bulbs above, the tissued whisper

of an iris opening, the deep breathing

                                 of the daily world—nothing

                                              from the other side.

How do you listen for a sound you’ve never heard?

                     Or, more precisely,

                                for a sound you know so well

                                                                you’ve never heard it?

First published in 32 Poems.