Kelly Ann Jacobson

Calf Poetica

                High on the list of unlikely possibilities that have now become truths: your closest friend is a cattle roper. She is many other things too, like artist and reader and photographer and mother, but that arena in her backyard on top of the steep hill you climb in your sandals because you didn’t know how to properly dress while your children call to you from the Gator is a powerful definer. There she is on her horse, swinging her breakaway rope. There she is in the box, entering her zone as the calf in the chute beside her strains against the metal barrier. Such concentration. You have never seen it, not humanely possible, not with the baby rocking in his car seat on the rope swing and her daughter and yours giggling from the bench and you spectating or probably just staring, not possible, not when you can barely make a crustless quiche with your two children pulling at your legs.
                And yet she holds the gaze of her husband at the release lever with such intensity that the world goes quiet.
                You are alone with them.
                She nods quickly, and the chute doors open with a low clack. The calf bolts, but the horse and rider remain in the box. Later you will ask her why, why hesitate, and discover that in fact this move takes the most control of all—to train your horse to follow your hand and not the doors in case the calf freezes at the opening.
                The next calf is prodded forward.
                Quiet. Alone.
                She nods again, and now the second calf is out. Quick as water gushing from an opened spout the horse shoots forward, rope circles round, and to the neck the breakaway rope descends in a clean, tight loop. The calf escapes, and rider and her horse return to the box to again create that stillness.
                And how you can barely understand it, not when you can barely write alone on the screened-in porch with all those lunches and field trips and spirit days and lesson plans and papers to grade. Not when every morning your head drags back to the door of the house and then, again, to the portable desk at the window. Such stillness. Such beauty. To claim it in those bright arena lights every night…
                And how you think of it the next morning as you ready your hands at the keys and stare.

Kelly Ann Jacobson is the author of the queer young adult novel Tink and Wendy, which recently won the Foreword Reviews Gold Medal for YA, as well as the forthcoming queer young adult novel Robin and Her Misfits. Kelly has published many other books for adults and young adults, including the chapbook An Inventory of Abandoned Things, which won Split/Lip Press’s 2020 Chapbook Contest. Her short pieces have been published in or are forthcoming from Boulevard, Southern Humanities Review, Daily Science Fiction, and many other literary magazines. Kelly is the Assistant Professor of English at the University of Lynchburg, and she also teaches Speculative Fiction and Short Story Writing for Southern New Hampshire University’s online MFA program. Kelly received her PhD in Fiction from Florida State University in 2021. You can find more information about her at