Jacqueline Jules

Four Poems from Stronger Than Cleopatra

First Books IV
Volume 16:2, Spring 2015

814MChfjZ1LYellow Marigolds

Rising up from the ground,
yellow faces tilted toward the sun,
I planted them after the house was sold,
for the new owners to enjoy.
Silly, I suppose
to invest time and money
in something else I had to leave behind.
Yet, pulling out of the driveway
that last time,
I enjoyed those yellow blooms,
planted yearly in the same spot.
They stood in front of the yard,
in front of the story
the neighbors would tell
of the long red fire truck
lumbering at the curb,
two men with medical bags
emerging from red doors,
and a small brown-haired wife
standing barefoot on the steps
waving both arms and screaming,
“Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!”
when it was already too late.

The Old Woman in the Grocery Store

At 38 years, I fear old age:
not wrinkles or white hair,
not even senility.
It’s the odds I object to.
Additional years multiply chances
of standing at a grave site
shoveling dirt on a life I love.
Growing old means outlasting others,
a most unappealing idea
after the summer afternoon
pool plans were suddenly scrapped
for a meeting with the undertaker.
Do you have a picture we can run with the obit?
Should the service be indoors or out?
Life is too brittle; too much like old bones
that snap in the slightest fall.
I hold my breath
at the sight of someone
who has survived the years.
She is standing by the meat counter,
thin, white-haired, with blue-veined fingers
stubbornly grasping a grocery cart.
I can’t help but stare—as if watching
a movie star choose ground beef.


In an outlet store in New England
on a trip two years ago,
you bought nine pairs of your favorite shoes.
We laughed then, a nine year supply
lugged in suitcases across seven states.
Such belief we had in the future;
to plan footwear seven years beyond your death.
Yet the pleasure in your smile remains:
Super price! Super fit! Super comfortable!
I feigned chagrin over the
logistics of carrying so many shoes on the plane,
then bought three pairs myself.
Life has so many mundane moments,
meaningful in retrospect.
The image is more vivid than the
photographs on the wall:
my low-key husband,
vivacious that day,
on vacation, willing to splurge.

A sense of duty
to others less fortunate
has donated a dead man’s suits, shirts, ties, belts,
but your shoes remain, size 13 B width,
empty, in the back of the closet.
Can I let someone else wear your shoes?
Enjoy the comfortable fit the way you did?
A delicate subject I didn’t consider in the first grim days
when all I could see was you, on your back,
unconscious, convulsing, the pain in your body
pulling you away before there was time
to cry and plead: Don’t go! Don’t go! Don’t
leave me with all these shoes.

Worms in the Flour

The sweet smell of baking bread
widened your nostrils, then your eyes.
“A girl who bakes bread!” Your face,
a nomad finding water in the desert.
It was the seventies.
Men were afraid to open doors, afraid not to.
You were ten years my senior.
“Challah,” I corrected. “Sabbath bread.
An expression of faith.”

When time allows and mood demands,
I still set out bowls and measuring cups,
yeast, eggs, and flour on the kitchen counter,
determined to knead a sticky white mess
into something smooth and solid.
It’s a noisy process. The first time
you heard the sound
of something being punched and beaten,
you ran to the kitchen to watch.

It requires more strength now,
in the house alone.
Finding the cabinet empty of yeast,
I can’t ask you to put down the newspaper
and run to the store. I almost quit today—
opening the flour tin, finding worms.

But there were empty bowls
on the counter, waiting
beside sugar, yeast, and eggs.
They taunted me, dared me to continue.
I grabbed my coat and keys.

Not long after, I came back
with new flour, ready
to start over.

ELJ Publications is a small press based in Washingtonville, NY, with a handful of dedicated authors, most emerging, with really awesome stories to tell.


Jacqueline Jules is the author of three books of poems: Itzhak Perlman's Broken String (Evening Street Press, 2017),Stronger Than Cleopatra (ELJ Publications, 2014), and the chapbook Field Trip to the Museum (Finishing Line Press, 2014). Her work has appeared in Inkwell, Little Patuxent Review, Innisfree Poetry Journal, Gargoyle, and Potomac Review. In addition, she has published 35 books for young readers including Never Say a Mean Word Again: A Tale from Medieval Spain (Wisdom Tales, 2014), winner of an Aesop Accolade from the American Folklore Society and finalist in the 2014 National Jewish Book Awards. Jules is a former school librarian and lives in Arlington, VA. http://www.jacquelinejules.com/