Common Monsters

Common Monsters
Jonathan Travelstead

(Come on sign, any sign)


Late. Sixteen, struck awake that roughly a third of the hemisphere could sleep

while everyone else watches Unsolved Mysteries. Wanting answers to questions

Stephen Hawking says we’re not yet ready to form in our mouths,


I practiced their fumbling. I paged secondhand narratives of alien contact

in Mysteries of the Unexplained. Studied eye witness accounts of inky, shark-

eyed ETs glossed alphabetically before foxfire, & swamp gas until I was hooked.


Set, then, for any bobber’s glow which might dangle from the sky’s summit

or shaft mine’s entrance, I kick-started my Honda & spooled out,

                                                                                    (Come on sign, any sign)


wrist numb for the choked throttle & Southern Illinois’ body outline

as I doglegged Orient No. 2 coal road, then Old Ben No. 9. Rusted silos stood

at attention—abandoned Soviet missiles—I pulled the clutch & unpinned their ignition,



straining for a whispered secret curling beyond my tachometer’s green glow.

The message I thought promised wasn’t where I expected, nailed on the blackjack

oak where a disused stretch of Illinois Central Rail banded the tree


as if sledged between its beams, lifting them skyward.

                                                                                    (Come on, sign, any sign)

I swooped roads like power lines insulated in glass caps, blue, on timbers


petrified in creosote. Shot down Paulton blacktop-—named for the mining town

it replaced—then divided with asphalt into strip mines like ellipses of tailings.

Twenty stories tall, the Colossus Bucyrus Eric dragline was only a rusty crane


to me then, wilting from the landscape’s structure. I ignored its boom,

the tent-poled sky. Looked past its pool-sized bucket I’d climbed so many times

I don’t truly know if it ever held the earth down. Ghost clangs. The detritus


of my youth outblatted the thickness of those machines, amniotic with grease & clay.

(Come on sign, any sign)

Weren’t we all children once, exhausted with hometown legends, but sure


we would know any other newfangled god, or astral sphinx should it

call us by name? I forsook the ghosts whose locations I knew for aliens I believed

into existence. Bent on contact, I angled a trajectory beyond ore conveyors


which oxidized the blacktop a congealed red, & again pulled the clutch, coasted.

Cut the engine, headlight. Learned the wrong instincts by trusting them,

closing my eyes at the blind man’s curve as if I could hear the stars’ register


octaves above tar-and-chip. I let go the handle bar on what I thought was a gravel

straightaway, craned my head to sky, & gathered the night’s fabric closer

as if the enigma might be more clearly seen on the keyhole’s other side.


I fingered the night’s bituminous cap

(Come on sign, any sign)

for a meteorite’s glyph. Sparks over soy & corn. It came for me, then.


Not drunk, but believing as a drunk does that a face pocked in the moon’s shadow

mumbles only to him, I shifted & wound towards the cone of watery light,

which also came to me as a widening ripple of field & road. Witness accounts


said I would freeze, then be tractored in. White-knuckled in a strangle hold

on the bar, I entered, then passed through the other side into a blind, fishtailed warble

where I dumped five hundred pounds of steel my jeans & denimed thigh

ground to a stop.


                                                                        (Come on sign, any sign)

Weeks I peeled blue thread & chat gravel from road rash, cursing as I curse myself

now for almost believing it was only a locomotive’s lamp & not the phantom


which appears in desire’s fevered pitch. Weeks I cursed ghosts of dismantled draglines

as I curse the past & near future gods, scarred thighs reminding me how close

we let ourselves believe we come to ascension & only just fall short.


Adam, cursed to almost brush the fingers of God as he reaches

down for him, dipping low, drawing close. Throat tight that I’ve been left behind,

I angle my stoned reach in the direction of the celestial only as it lifts away,


not ready, still unable to connect with the stars.

(Come on sign, any sign)




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