Jacques at Play
Next morning, five blocks from his house
was a large patch of ground
owned by the town
where Jacques and four friends
shouted crossly in latitudinal lines,
dug trenches, drove glass tanks
of stained gold and gray,
gestured with spoons
snatched from a picnic,
and wore sashes, each with
a coat of arms conceived
and embroidered by his mother.
Jacques wore a gray heart and weeds
and carried an oriflamme: a rampant cone-hearted Jacques.
Said Jacques, little god of the fickle
(and do not confuse
with the god of the sickle,
his little friend, his enemy
in the city park’s battle),
“Do not cross,” and he did line the dirt
with his hirsute and flowered shinbone stick.
“O Jacques, One-Point-Hatted of the Court,
Son of the Lately Widow Lotte,
we come!” said his mates
and little Jacques parried
their silver knives’ flash
and sashes waved
in the wind and the rain
and Jacques’s sewn weeds and heart moved
from his chest to his groin.
It was Jacques’ friends,
Knights of the Soil of Crooking Worms,
who said, “We’ll feed you to our iron maiden.
She’s hungry for some fibrous stalks
and a boy.” “Not his eyes! I’ll spit them out,”
said the ground.
When they caught him,
two carried Jacques’ limbs, poles
of a small human palanquin,
while the other two dug up
witchgrass and hen flower
with their dogs and bit hands
until, at last,
the Root and Worm Realm.
“The Iron Maiden’s cradle will hold our small Jacques,”
and they threw the boy in
with his little coned hat
and put the dirt back. “Dead,” they said. “Dead.”
“Home!” went the four mates
to their suppers, baths and beds.
But two came back
in the sleepdark dusk
to dig Jacques from the maiden
who’d swallowed him up,
but Jacques wasn’t there.
Olivia Clare is the author of a book of poems titled The 26-Hour Day (New Issues, 2015). In 2011, she received a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. Her book of short stories, Disasters in the First World, was published by Grove Atlantic in 2017 and she has a novel forthcoming from Grove. In fiction, she is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and an O. Henry Prize. She is currently an Assistant Professor in English, Creative Writing, in the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi.