I am learning to love this Portuguese noise--
In the bay sailboats with right triangles
of searing green, billowing red. Funiculars, and dark women
climb the steep hills,
their figures singularly beautiful
as Goya’s Maja Vestida.

Street vendors sell paella, and roasted chestnuts,
cry proclamations as if calling their children home.

In the plaza’s center
a street performer in a patina of greasepaint
mimics the statue of St. Michael,
the shallow sulci between copper feathers pitted black
as the pea-coated Africans there
hawking tar-plugs of hash in sliced cigar ends.


New Year’s Eve by the Tagus River
and Russian women quickly empty their shopping carts
of Champagne bottles.

Thousands have come
and now line the shore’s rip-rap, watching fireworks
mortared from tugs, pop, and spread
their wings
stereoscopic in the sky and the river.

Afterimages, negatives on the eyelids’ back-
chimeras of face-melting greens
                                                and mauve pinks blanch,
then stream together in fading constructs
of flaming birds-turned-cormorants,
blinding Towers of Babel.


Tonight sons are taught to piss
in the streets, on the ancient buildings’ stone walls.

A circle of orange-sashed Spaniards
pass a pitcher of sangria and a mandolin, crooning Fado
and I watch them,
                       missing my father.

Midnight, one of the men turns to me in this New Year,
claps my back, and the language we do not share
                                              crumbles like a wall
between observing and being whole.

Lowering the pitcher’s rim from my mouth,
one of the men passes the mandolin.
                                              Drunk, I believe
I understand. Foolish, I finger the strings,
and try singing.



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. Having finished his MFA 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 among others, and his first collection How We Bury Our Dead by Cobalt/Thumbnail Press was released in March, 2015.