2 poems — Jonathan Travelstead


Because children’s coloring books teach us
to find What is Missing from one of two similar pictures,
I consider what was never there: Tonguing the molar
whose pith- porous as a sponge- jags the jaw with each toggle.
Rubbernecking through binoculars the movements
of illegals crossing the US/Mexico border into Arizona,
then reporting their coordinates. Conflict tours in which
hummingbird wings throb within my chest
as I peruse the gallery always of someone else’s pain.
Oksana- my tour guide’s red hair, head forward
as she led me deeper through Chernobyl’s via dolorosas
described the taste of radiation sickness the same way
my Mother did her chemo treatments- as if
stuffed straw were burning at her throat’s back.
No, this itemized list has nothing on me- just boring,
over-the-counster hang-ups you can buy at any One-Stop,
back alley, or doctor’s office. Alcohol, cigarettes, pills-
the quick-fix guarantee of chemicals. Compulsive sex.
The fantasy of avatars controlled with a keyboard
in the anonymity of virtual, social networks.
Flipping the tract over so I see if I’ve missed anything,
I can’t find the right synonym, or what it means.
Voyeurism. Schadenfreude. Pain of others.



He is barefoot, appears sculpted as if from
slabs of clay which have been hand-chucked onto rebar.
His breath is a vacuum,
priming cobalt up from his veins.

The bodybuilder transitions from a sidechest
to back double biceps position
he strains in the mirror to hold
until his body is rigid, and lithic with blood.

Every day he dissects himself
as he dissects you.
He searches for a supersymmetry
that lies between calories counted out

in oat flake and egg yolks,
a measured eight hours of sleep
in which muscle scars and devises new methods
for bluffing the dumb bell.

Always he remembers his fathers-
Arnold and Lou-
standing in effigies of oil-sheened gods,
their sinew gnarled and torqued

from hoisting and heaving
in calculated angles against gravity.
He feels the back-breaking weight of this lonely,
ascetic life. He has no time for touch,

living between iron and the notebook’s page.
In the mirror he once again tightens his diaphragm
and now it’s you that cannot look away.
Nothing in his ribs’ intercostal landscape

can be plucked
and still allow for equal measure.


Jonathan Travelstead served in the Air Force National Guard for six years as a firefighter and currently works as a full-time firefighter for the city of Murphysboro. Having finished his MFA at Southern Illinois University of Carbondale, he now works on an old dirt-bike he hopes will one day get him to the salt flats of Bolivia. He has published work in The Iowa Review and on Poetrydaily.com among others, and his first collection “How We Bury Our Dead” by Cobalt/Thumbnail Press is forthcoming in February, 2015.