We all agree: Jensen’s mind held galaxies. She was a once in a generation writer, and a once in a generation person. Every line she wrote vibrates with intentionality. We remember Jensen’s work like shards of glass. They cut deeply. They seem see-through, a fraction of a larger whole, dangerous and loose. But each word is carefully angled to catch the light from a brilliant mind, each fragment dangerous in its authenticity, with echoing choruses of history and tradition.
She loved people tremendously well, in a way that illuminated each room she stepped into. Most people ask “How are you doing?” as a casual greeting, but Jensen asked it as a genuine question. She was deeply invested in the details of your day. She was always looking to learn about people, from the friends surrounding her to the characters of history. Her sensitivity and curiosity are part of what made her so endearing, and they revealed themselves in the most memorable ways.
Classes were held online our first year at NOCCA. The pandemic left us with no choice. Naturally, this entailed many zoom malfunctions. Once, our teacher was kicked from the zoom call and the algorithm decided Jensen would be a benevolent administrator. While we waited for our teacher to rejoin, as the freshmen we were, we giggled and paid homage to our noble leader. “Ms. Holliday” dutifully educated us about Roman history until it was time to discuss writing again. She was eager for witty play or sharing her detailed historical knowledge.
But she craved to learn more. After senior graduation last spring, Jensen continued to show up to our Creative Writing classes for two more weeks. She wanted to continue her work in our unit on novellas, and, she added, wanted to stay with our little community of writers for as long as she could.
The world is that much dimmer for the loss of our friend. But when we read Jensen’s work, like that included below, we rediscover that shard of light.
And with that in mind, what’s stronger than a pain that isn’t? No pain allowed, no pain aloud, no pain existent, only Ghosts and paper-sheet-skeletoned mem’ries in my head. Even if I’ve thought of everything to say, I won’t really, no, can’t Really know how to string my mem’ries together into words. So, take this , Shuffled bunch of papers piled over me (*) instead. Oh, if only these white rectangles could speak, I could be/have Rear(ing/ed) a thousand minds’ worth words against you. Rooms of “God!”s and “sons” and “suns” and “sums” and sundry coins You, the blesséd litany of saints, and the Oxford Comma threw , For generations (in my eyes, at least) into my clogged-dry mouth-fountain, Even when my chest heaved from their slimy, (**) blasted weight. And for that, I thank you. For giving me something to bleach the blinding Red pen scratched-out thoughts behind my eyes. (***) * and my scarred body ** Godda__ *** All this is to say what I can’t. Because you can’t open up my head like a sugar packet.
I’d rather be a widow than a bride; rather be bedecked in smart black bombazine and jet beads than washed-out white. No. There will be no bouquet of drooping flowers begging to be put from their pastel misery in my attic. I much prefer my weeds. Goodbye Madame Cake Topper! Straight to the fire for you, Monsieur Wedding Ring. Poor girl that panders to her husband, a position that from the beginning reeks of imminent dissatisfaction. You know what they say: Expectation is, afterall, nothing short of premeditated disappointment. So praise to the woman that panders to herself only! Who can renounce her if she “grieves” in place of dancing, talking; not forced to present a brittle or dreary, lacquered mask promenading down the arbored aisles of some perfectly chaste park? “Remember when dear Louis died,” I’m sure they’ll all say to each other frowning. “She must be wracked with grief.” Dainty satin gloves against the heart in sallow pity. But I know I’ll be standing in the corner with mock-weary eyes and a snarky giggle buried beneath my own shroud of black voile. Oh, how those poor dears put up with their aching backs from looking up to mothers, aunts, grannies, neighbors for advice beats me. Certainly the glittering teeth, the naively blushed and dewed Cheeks of Juliette are no match for the elegant maturity of Merteuil, the effortless glamour of Jean Harlow moved to mascara tears, The Wife of Bath’s beguilingly sensual wisdom. How fortunate then for me a cup of poison’s the only thing that separates the one from the other
what? what is? what is it? what is it that you want? what is it that you want from me? to be like this stay like this forever? Locked together in blows like two birds trapped in each others’ golden plumage fighting flickering then the worst part, Silence, flies away with both of our feathers leaves us both Broken and bleeding, Grounded Robbed of the joy of flying through turquoise skies together. but I cannot stay. Can’t stay Won’t stay my mind is a Constantinople, walled-stone-bricks reaching loftily into the air and I am sinking in canon fire without my stolen wings sinking sinking sunk in what you want. not me... never Me.
The Incidence of Fire: A corruption of a building’s inner structure, abandonment, a lack of awareness that fades with the money on the left side of the train tracks.
There’s an apartment complex about a block away just like that; the cracked brick-box flats went up in flames about two weeks ago, and I still taste the familiar palate of smoke on the tip of my tongue, like a dead mother’s perfume that lingers in the air after she’s buried. See the charred rafters over there waving to the row of wood-plank townhouses across the street? They’re crammed together; too many logs in a fireplace. The rafters whisper to them, You’re next.
Imaginary flames gnaw at the corner edges now. Bright lights pressed by my mind into their looming black shadows, crawling up against the windowed curtains, creeping up from unsure foundations. But soon Swivel-headed people wild eyed with a suffocating panic, stream from louvered windows and flung-open doors, carrying album books and canvas bags, followed by clouds of mossy smoke into the emptied streets.
The making-ends-meet woman in #13 left her crusty gas stove on to take a work call. The I-love-you-Harry-Styles schoolgirl living in #6 left her candle lit in her shoebox-closet altar. The firemen come, but they’re too late to see the flames rising; rising up above the rooftops, a great phoenix in the sky flaunting crimson feathers. The creature breathes glittering flecks, and his glowing vestige is reflected against onlookers’ raisined eyes in the oncoming moon fire. The fire dies down, but the phoenix takes flight, loose in this all-too-flammable city. The rafters hiss into the morning.
The rafters stretch into the clouds about a block away.
Stretching into the hazy clouds, the rafters rise about a block from my window.
I think I can see how the rafters might go up some day soon about a block away from my pollen coated window, stretching up into the air, climbing through the electric blue nostalgia above the charred-through brick flats.
The rafters get higher and higher blocks away from my window, stretching towards the sky, but my feelings plummet downwards; tumbling down mountains of guilt and paper-mache pride.
the people spilling out of the windows and doors, odd books and bags in hand, followed by the thick, mossy smoke.
Smoke spilling from the windows and doors following the steady flow of booked and bagged tenets.
The people leave with books and bags, followed by smoke.
Swivel-headed people, wild eyed with sparking panic stream from louvered windows and flung-open doors, carrying books and bags, followed by thick clouds of mossy black smoke.
Note attached to the piece: Creating this piece, I started to grieve not just for the people actually lost in fires like the one that happened in the piece, but for the people that could have been lost, including myself. I hate to imagine if my apartment building had been the one to burn down, if I would have even survived. I also think that this piece can be viewed as mourning for the city of New Orleans, which is where this piece is set and where I live. Houses and buildings are more like people than we realize. Each holds a purpose, develops a character, protects and provides for the inhabitants. And each will eventually die. We mourn many buildings like we do people, and I hope that my piece, while it didn’t explicitly go into the nitty-gritty of grief, gives many hints and undertones into the beauty and complexity of the notion of grief.