Fifty-Two Hertz

Johnathan Travelstead

Imagine roaming the world’s largest ocean year after year alone,
calling out with the regularity of a metronome, and hearing no response...[
the animal is saying,] “I’m out here”...“[but] nobody is
phoning home.”
—Andrew C. Revkin, New York Times

Marine biologists listen
through their underwater instruments
          to this solitary baleen whale
and name her for her song’s
                                  unique frequency,

an exhausted cry no other whales can hear.


So we call her June,
                                 give her a human name,
claim her as if we could erase her loneliness
the way we erase our own:

erecting antennae, slinging radio waves
like ships that sail beyond the script
on the map’s border that reads
                                  here be dragons,

hoping a postcard with a bit of code that says

You are

comes lobbing back to our wide, gray dishes.

                                   Does not.

So we call ourselves billions
                                   of ones and zeroes

exiting a hole,
falling from a scarp’s blasted entrance
to slate-bruised knees
                                  where we pray for a story
we can believe.


Or we pray for rain to fall as snakes
          that bite their tails in prairie grass
and roll to the horizon

          where dust-browned leaves rise in a conjured gale.

Or we pray for tufts of nebulae
          that shake glimmering dust from their locks,
christen our foreheads with soot.

Holding out for a switch flicked in the heavens,
we pray for confirmation.


June, what if your song returns from a distant place?

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.