Electrical Engineering

By Rob Carney

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Old Roads, New Stories: A Literary Series


  1. There are mornings, as the sun comes up, when the overcast travels the Wasatch Front, moving south to north in a long wide line, like the clouds are almost ranging.
  2. Backlit that way—with such stark contrasts—it’s so much more than gray. And it reminds you.
  3. “Reminds you of what?”
  4. “That the clouds aren’t just one mass, for starters. And second, where buffalo come from”:
  5. Long ago, the buffalo came from the sky. First, a few clouds drifting away, stopping to graze on the tree tops. Then more and more of them joining, sampling flowers, trying out prairie grass, ’til finally the First Herd gathered by a winding snowmelt river.
  6. Wolves were already waiting, of course, their howling prayers for new challenges answered,
  7. and a prayer they’d never even asked for: a three-day snow. Snow they could glide above weightless, watching buffalo sink to their ice-beards, become bulks, become trudging exhaustion—
  8. “Yes, that’s true. It’s basic science: Mass + Blizzard + Foot Design = A Hell of a Lot More Hunt-able.”
  9. “And somehow that’s about circuitry?”
    “Yes. The buffalo are the diode.”
  10. Also lightning. You’ve got to have lightning. Without spark, the clouds are just a way to move water. Just buckets, assembly-line colleagues. Only functional, no love.
  11. No love means no Creation Story.
  12. You can roll your eyes all you want to, but you’re not smarter than Science. Science can make a frog out of poison so that snakes and monkeys won’t eat it, then people come along, invent the Cheeto—
  13. “No, Cheetos won’t be on the test.”
  14. I know what I’m talking about. Lightning strikes are memory, sometimes sharp enough to sheer off branches, and rolling clouds are buffalo, and I’ve seen a bear,
  15. up in Priest Lake, Idaho. It was lying in the middle of the road. A road out of nowhere, it seemed, suddenly there overnight.
  16. Logging.
  17. Anyway, the road’s so new that the gravel’s still got its tooth shape, and the bear’s on his back in the sunlight, digging in his heels. Up/down-up/down-up/down-up/down. Using the road as a backscratcher.
  18. That’s what I mean about love, about needing it. The bear is the capacitor. Now you can build yourself a circuit, but before you go:
  19. Our brains aren’t “hard-wired.” Never be a person who says that. It’s a robot phrase about robots—
  20. “No, robots won’t be on the test.”—
  21. It’s a whole lot better, I think, and also more scientific, to say we carry clouds inside our skulls, our own bony atmospheres.
  22. And our dendrites—let’s call them lightning since our thoughts flash out across synaptic gaps.
  23. Or don’t say flashing, call it traveling. Traveling north along the Wasatch Front.
  24. What would happen . . . I mean, what would people do . . . if construction crews came and disassembled our homes?
  25. Magnetic hammers pulling nails from walls and rooftops. Framing and sheetrock separated, loaded backward onto trucks. Trucks backing out of our neighborhoods, then backing down the highway, all the way to the mill where these machines—electric miracles—fuse everything together, and those logs then winched onto long beds, and those trucks reversing from the city, and hardhat crews with their gloves on ready to reattach branches, to stand trees back up along lakeshores, up the slopes of waiting mountains, and then bears . . . alone, or in pairs, or groups . . . moving in.
  26. This is your Midterm. And, yes, it’s still due Monday: What weather is best for a morning like that—sunny, rainy, or overcast? In 623 words, explain your reasons why.



Rob Carney’s fourth book 88 Maps just came out from 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.

Photo of transmission lines and lightning courtesy Shutterstock.

Ratings is the first online literary journal of place, publishing award-winning literature, art, editorials, and community case studies since 1998.