Morning in Lviv I sip espresso with Anatoli, ex-KGB.
Smoke cloves. Confess my origin story. He calls me Capone,
coughs a dozen shots with his tommy gun. Laughs
like ducks quacking, or gamblers placing final bets.
He raps the secret knock at Kryivka. A rifle’s barrel answers
the door. Unsleeving my arm so he sees the scar separating forearm
from bicep, I say It really is a beautiful world and we compare
tools of manipulation laid on the table for inspection.
Agree they’re fine as frog’s hair. Trust one another
because each of us confesses a love for his country
great enough that we would walk even Kiev’s, East St. Louis’ gangways
after dark. Watch as people pass, talk of former jobs on bar stools.
Throats sore from all this womanly sharing,
we recite jokes about blondes, Catholics, and Jews, thumb-click
a mechanical counter for every mistranslation,
for every sweet ass that makes it inside.
The Bucolic Knight’s Lament
after Robert Fisher
Surely this is hell. An inkling of smoke, and another dragon compels me
that I shiver it down from the mountains, my wife at the door frame begging me
to stay. Stuck fast, how badly I need the campaign that will unbind me from
this oath & armor, allow again the mixture of sweat and lavendar
to take me by my senses. The terrorists are everywhere. Damn the patina
they smudge into my breastplate! Damn this tankard I nurse through
a straw & my visor, the shame I can’t see run down my grated face
at the life I’ve given to their balderdash rhetoric. I don’t need you. I don’t need
nothin’ except this cheesecloth. & this bottle of Brasso. Five hundred times
I spin penitence into my cuirass, five hundred times I’m atoned. I miss
my son’s first birthday as one of many lessons in disappointment so he stifles
weakness with how he surpasses his many failures. I see no irony in this.
Neither do I see it in giving my wife the words to unfasten these walls,
but she refuses enthroning someone only so they can descend to her. Bloody
from the slaying of apparations she says are this nation’s ignis fatuus,
I cross the drawbridge to the note on the oaken doors which evicts me,
notice the keep is no longer drafty now that James has moved in. You say
I could have been a plant, or a slug that manufactures its own nutrients?
Tell me instead where the Rust-Rid is so that I might aerosol this gauntlet
so it molts to the ground. You have the chutzpah to say these bars I alone set
into stone & now I’m starving in them? Help me slough this shell,
dismantle pride so my jawline’s reflection again pleases me. Please.
My shoulders hurt. The odor in here could kill an ox. Tell me I’m great.
Please. I ask also the green knight before striking him down Praytell if I am
in fact, good and kind? I ask my burro, & I ask the whores. I squeak about
behind the town crier for a change in my enemy’s GPS location & newsfeed,
if I made the news today. The recruiter said I didn’t choose this life of duty,
it chose me. Covered in sigils rusted together so their borders no longer
hold definition, I don’t even see my medals for how their weight pins me
to the ground. Yea, god, I am estranged so shuck me of this artifice.
I didn’t choose this life, it chose me. Tell me, when will I be changed?
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, on Poetrydaily.com, and has work forthcoming in The Crab Orchard Review, among others. His first collection, How We Bury Our Dead, by Cobalt/Thumbnail Press, was released in March, 2015.