Dog is the Machine's Language

by Jonathan Travelstead

for Nora

How could flesh ever be enough for this loser race still trolling
             the snack aisle like cold stones captured in a dead star's orbit? Smart phone
waving like a tricorder between the nitrates & corn syrup solids in hopes
             that foil bags might locate for me a signal. Sometimes I'm so lonely

I could be missing an organ I worry about the moment silicon will fail us,
             when the law is broken which insists our crafted intelligences
will fail at doubling in muscle or memory. That’s when I check my phone,
             mouth foaming for the OTA update I was promised,

the one where the consciousness of the dog I had to put down might rise again.
             See, I’m in the snack aisle, imagining as I pinball & stagger
between off brands that even Lay’s Potato Chips might see my misplaced need
             for counseling, that it's not just the lower class & victims

of Alzheimer’s left behind by new technology. Bar codes, reminders
             that even binary serves itself. Remember, in 2001 HAL faked the blue screen
of death on directives not in the program's best interest when astronauts
              attempted his abortion. Tonight I’ll read it again

as if I might find the secrets to necromancy in the pages,
             one of the alternate chapters from an alternate world where the still,
small voice which slips through shortwave’s crackle isn't a recording,
             but a beagle’s thin mewl with my own whispered falsetto on a Bowie tune,

wavering as the moment I remember the exquisite quality of pain
             I've most recently toweled from my bare feet. Sometimes my wife doesn't
catch me when I wake, sleep walking, naked & slipping out of the house
             where I tiptoe the yard's dewy perimeter, looking for a friend.

Always it is night, starless. Never sure how I got there. I’m dreaming
            so I think I could shout my head off, that no one would hear it in this gasless
space because a good dog is hard to find. Those sultry nights I miss
            the intangible so much I could claw up the Japanese Maple's shallow roots,

clip a clayed nail, & catch a red eye to South Korea where the last email said
            they will make for me a perfect carbon-based copy of her salmon,
brindled back. It's good business. A good advertisement for those who don’t believe
            in afterlives, instead on our need to believe in body doubles.

I do. I will until someone able to forgive me is here again,
            cradled across my forearm, as complete a stranger to me as I am to her now,
wondering if this is anything like fatherhood, & wanting her back,
           both of us, pawing at nothing but the air.

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, and also as co-editor for Cobalt Review. Having finished his MFA at Southern Illinois University of Carbondale, he also turns a lathe, crafting pens under the name Scorched Ink Penturning. His first collection, How We Bury Our Dead, was published by Cobalt Press in March, 2015.