How We Bury Our Dead (paperback)
Winner of the 2013 Cobalt Poetry Prize for his poem “Trucker,” Jonathan Travelstead has compiled an astounding collection of adrenalized poetry. How We Bury Our Dead is a narrative work which follows a single speaker as he jumps from one intense situation to the next in order to avoid his mother’s struggle with cancer. An Air Force firefighter, he volunteers to accompany his unit to Kuwait, and, after returning and still unable to cope, he hitchhikes his way across Alaska before finally going home.
Jonathan Travelstead maps the quest for his elemental “end points and beginnings.” Doing so, he spans topography as various as Southern Illinois strip mines, automobile accident scenes, and Iraqi battle zones. What results are narratives that bare-knuckle gut-punch easy redemption. These poems honor the dead and the dying, refusing to avert the eye from certain explosion. It’s no wonder the keenest offer “prayers” for hand tools that do something palpably useful, say, prying open the wrecked heart’s flaming chariot of half-spoken desires. —Kevin Stein, author of Wrestling Li Po for the Remote
Jonathan Travelstead’s fearless poems are about the other in each of us, those sudden illuminations of the self in which we realize we are not alone. The voices of the estranged, the willfully forgotten, and the restless dead inhabit us. In any given moment, a lover’s face or gesture reveals a mother we’ve run toward and away from all our lives. An electrocuted man’s last minutes tick away to reveal our need to both connect with and hide from one another, to rely on comforting fictions to soften the truth, to insure that we don’t go into that anonymous dark alone. It’s a startling, affirming collection that stares down our other selves, compels them to speak. —Scott Blackwood, author of See How Small