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 is How We Bury Our Dead (Cobalt/Thumbnail Press, February 2015).
Failure yanks the logging chain his pet slipped his own neck into,
then mashes his nose in it. This is what he wants? Then this is
how I'll give it to him. And so the pet welcomes this hard knock motivation
handed down like a knot at the end of a string of generations
that skipped his Father the Giant with his callus-armored hands,
soft speech, but which he doubles down on himself with vengeance,
thinking he will measure accomplishment by the drill sergeant's volume,
and cadence. Self-titled, the cur says nothing when Failure tears pages
from Pumping Iron magazine- Boris Vallejo prints from movie posters
and covers for dimestore Fantasy & Erotica. He only licks his feet
when Failure magnetizes the wrinkled, ragged-edged pictures in a mural
bordering a round, bare spot in the fridge's stainless, mirror finish
so that when he goes for water or thin milk he sees purple, tear-napped fur
surrounded by all that he isn't. In one poster, a string-clad bimbo-
Sappho, or Eros- clings to Conan the Barbarian's leaden calf. Upraised,
he stares down his acrylic bulge of vein thundering over bicep
and broadsword. Beside it, another Boris in caricature of the first
on a National Lampoon poster. The subjects: An adoring Beverly D'Angelo
kneed at a hypertrophic Chevy Chase, replete with shit-eating grin
as he mugs the camera, thrusts a tennis racket up to the storm of sky.
Conan, or Clark Griswold, each a reminder for how easy it is to fall short
of self-portraiture using Failure's threats like a two-edged sword
until we no longer choose believing that we're the diva worshipping
at cock-level of the playboy who only kicks sand in our face
while he gathers beachgoers to guffaw our mosquito tits and lumpy butt,
our capellini triceps' atonal definition. I've forgotten about plateau
and the law of diminishing returns- how gains cease when the muscle works
the same way every time. Too late I try unyoking myself.
Failure's been calling the shots so long he's not going to give up so easily.
Laughing like a loon imitating a hyena, jerks the logging chain
too tight to slip, and this time when he smears my face in it I come away
with a bloody nose, accepting it when he says my voice
is too tinny for barking orders, too shrill to even make the tryouts
for “America's Got Talent.” No such thing as a fifty-fifty relationship,
there's only temporary mutual benefit until someone commits a coup.
I used him, now he gets to use me. He's the one with the scissors.
He's got the glue.