Critical Incident Stress Debriefing
by Jonathan Travelstead
The woman I’m seeing off and on, two years on depression meds, without work.
My neighbor, fifty and bald from chemo I sit with mornings,
drinking coffee as she pets my dog.
I think This time I will be there.
This time she will live.
He leans forward, eyes cresting the silver rims of his glasses.
You can’t really save anyone, you know.
Shame like water brims just behind my teeth.
Nothing to say, I look at the book on the coffee table
for what must be the appropriate amount of time.
Then the gold clock, its ticking encased in glass on the desk,
three spheres spinning on its mirrored base.
Good, he says, leaning back. Good.
Why can’t I tell my father about the electrocuted boy?
Try. Talk to him now, pretend he’s in that chair.
My father, a spreading wingspan of a man
named after a Ford and a character in Shakespeare
who herniated a disc and the meniscus in both knees
working doubles for UPS so we could go to the beach each year.
Sleeping beside him for a week of nights
in the shallow dent my mother’s body left,
each time our backs touched his breath threatened to not return.
A story. From another, safer life. Bible School. Of Ham,
who, finding Noah drunk and asleep, covered his nakedness,
and when Noah awoke, he woke in shame, cursing his son
for his own human weakness.
Tell me how can I come to him for comfort
when it wasn’t the electrocuted boy I saw in the substation
but myself, helpless to his own singing grasp
and clutching the copper cable like the third rail of life?
Tell me how I can be anyone other than I am,
please—how when not the least part of me
leaks beyond my father’s pooled shadow
that I can now go to him with my smallest of pains?
With this crumb a stronger man could pinch in two.
This infinite fleck of nothing, this small worry.
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, Illinois. He completed his MFA at Southern Illinois University, and has published work in the Iowa Review. His first book of poetry, How We Bury Our Dead, was published in 2015 by Cobalt/Thumbnail Press.