Letter to the Unborn

By JONATHAN GLENN TRAVELSTEAD

POETRY SEMIFINALIST

To David

The first and only time I hunted deer my Father and I holed up
in an old rust bucket Ford van. Rear doors flung open to the woods,
we passed secrets between us. Cocoa with butterscotch Schnapps.
Limericks. That the boy a block down dropped a piece of granite
on a killdeer nest between the tracks. Crosshairs swayed over steam
and snowy woods, searching for Bambi. Don’t name
what you intend to kill.

To Catherin

Head against the glass of the bus,
I wake, barely remember I am in Belize.
My face stares back from beyond the clay
bleeding onto the gravel road.

Today I paid a local Mayan
to show me what is, what could have been.

We hiked through the jungle
as howler monkeys shrieked from
the giant breadfruit trees,
and wild poinsettias lined the path.

A blue spring. He showed me
how to descend into it, swim beneath stone,
and come up in darkness.

An hour spelunking the dark cave
we came to the child’s bones.
Sacrifice. Her lithified skeleton.

Splayed, face-down in my headlamp’s light
I saw where the rib broke.
I saw, too, the groove where
a spear’s flint notched her spine,
where the father must have entered,
retrieved her heart.

Catherin, or David

What majority vote did I have
deciding against your possibility between two pink lines,
the woman I loved then?

Covered in dried yolk, flecked with coffee grounds,
I keep your names I liked best in a lockbox on a cancelled check
I spent an hour fishing out of the trash.
On the check’s back, a stick child in a woven basket.
Scrawled in carbon copy beneath two columns of names,
their meanings, circled in red.

‘Beloved’, ‘Innocent’.
You are, and I think of you each time I travel,
finding you again as artifacts ghosting across my vision from
the window of buses, trains,
or laid away deep in the cave of some secret place.

David, or Catherin, if there were any lessons
I could have given you remember these two things:
Love your Mother,
and know it is easier being the one who leaves
than it is being the one left behind.

 

Jonathan Glenn 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 master of fine arts degree 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.

 


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