By Rob Carney

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Old Roads, New Stories: A Literary Series

I’m not an architect. Not unless you count reading The Fountainhead in high school, and you shouldn’t. But poets do build things. Sometimes poorly, sometimes well, and I’m betting you know the difference. I’m betting you’ve read some poems that feel like waiting at the DMV, that crime against both patience and design with its purgatory furniture. Fluorescent lights. Linoleum. Dreary air.

That sucks, and I hear you, but you’ve also known the opposite: poems that feel like going on a really great date, where the food and smells seem to come from God’s own kitchen, and the wine is good (whether red, or white and cold), and you take your time so you can keep on talking, and you never want to have to say good-night.

Or you’ve found the ones like a coffee shop—local and indie, not corporatized—where the tables might wobble a little, but the coffee’s not burned and it doesn’t come with sprinkles. Even if it’s next to a vacuum store, the place feels somehow tucked away, a well-lit city oasis, with ceilings high enough to welcome in the wind if the doors are left open, and they are. And the music coming from the hidden speakers is exactly what you wanted, even before you knew it, like ESP: Men at Work or The Slackers; Altered Images’ “Happy Birthday”; Lick the Tins doing Elvis, turning “Can’t Help Falling in Love” to Irish whiskey; Simple Minds, or Talking Heads, or Bird since you can’t go wrong with Charlie Parker. Perfect. It’s just what the doctor ordered, plus some chairs and exposed brick walls. You could stay here awhile… have another cup… take it all in.

That’s what I’m talking about—poems half poem, half table-in-the-corner. Those are the kind I like trying to build, and maybe you’ll think this is one:

When I Went to Work as a Snow-Globe Designer,

I didn’t do it for the usual reasons.
I did it to get some practice in

before building my house at the bottom of the ocean.
Less traffic noise, for one thing,

and I’ve traded crows for manta rays…
a million fish like clouds

of colorful rain.
And my yard is a coral reef,

and I never shovel the sidewalk
since the snow just floats suspended in my dome.

You ought to come visit me. We could open some wine
and watch the sharks cruise over…

then sit together by the fireplace,
impossibly warm.



Rob Carney’s fourth book, 88 Maps, was published by Lost Horse Press (distribution by University of Washington Press). Previous books and chapbooks include Story Problems and Weather Report, both from Somondoco Press.
Read poetry by Rob Carney appearing in 6th Annual Contest Finalist, 4th Annual Contest Winner, and Issue 30. And listen to a new radio interview with Rob Carney, and here’s an older radio interview.

Photo of coffee house by Unsplash, courtesy Pixabay. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.