By Rob Carney

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Old Roads, New Stories: A Literary Series


I was a spelling tutor once for three Arab guys—Mohammed, Muhammed, and Khalid. They were older than me. They were nice. And they wanted some logic from this mishmash language we think is universal, some sane explanation for homonyms, and for why words spelled as randomly as this still rhyme: zoo, shoe, through, view, blue, two; goal, toll, bowl, soul; got, caught, taut, fought; want, haunt; heart, part; reign, brain, insane. You think you have an answer? No, you don’t.

Still, I stumbled on some patterns (not “rules”; these guys took rules seriously, took to them eagerly, and then felt ripped off by the inevitable exceptions), and each meeting we made some headway and drank a lot of coffee then went to shoot some pool. Muhammed was the best at it, and an extrovert, and pretty much constantly smiling. One day, though, he didn’t want to, and I could tell he was feeling kind of down.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I miss camels,” he said. “Here, there are only cows.”

Screw idioms. He’d hit on a far better way to say “I’m homesick.” And right now, sitting in my house, I’m homesick too. Not for camels, for water.

Astrology tells me there’s a reason for this. My zodiac sign is the Crab, and I’m landlocked in Utah, duh. But just like with spelling—an e on the end makes the vowel sound long, but not in the case of the number “one”—there must be exceptions. I mean, somewhere there’s a Taurus (Earth sign) who totally lives to water ski. Or a Virgo (another Earth sign) who up and buys a kayak in her 30s, turns herself halfway into an otter, even inventing new coves in her sleep, and new woods with accessible places to launch from. One night she finds her arms moving under the blankets, enough that she wakes herself up: It’s the middle of the night, it’s her bedroom, and the nearly fluid sunlight cutting through the overcast was just a dream. The sound of her paddle dipping, dipping, dipping in the lake was just rain outside getting scooped at her house by wind gusts. Liquid whispers. The weather and her limbs tuned and rhythmic.

And that’s not all; surely there’s a Pisces who’s a pilot, who would rather fly than swim, and another one arrested for arson, and so on. I’m saying the zodiac is savvy, but it might not perfectly explain.


When I narrow down my list of favorite restaurants, narrow it to one, the place is Katie Downs. And where is it?—on the water. Specifically, Commencement Bay. Facing southeast toward the world’s best mountain, Mt. Rainier.


I love the song “I Melt With You” by Modern English. At the center of the lyrics is melting, of course. Like ice into water.


A few years back, a line came to me, a title for a poem, which I figured would be about wind, but I’m not sure it is. Three sections in, it had already veered into this:

Just Once I’d Like to Sneak Up on the Wind—

—there must be something tucked in its pocket:
a memory I’ve somehow forgotten,

or the shape of a promise, the quiet heart
of smooth stones.

And I wish I could translate the ocean,
all that it’s learned about blue,

about the seagull’s wing.
Though it takes eight years for the sea to say feather,

and longer to answer its questions about fire,
I’d wait like a granite cliff

and write it down.
I’d like to know what sun thinks, shining

through a yellow dress . . .
if it feels the same to trace a body as a peach.

Can it taste a whole orchard?
Can it sense it’s the season in Yakima?

Can it go in search of a willow?
Imagine sitting in the shade?

~ ~ ~

What is the meaning of meaning?
A river.

That’s it?
Well, maybe a wide enough one to skip rocks.

~ ~ ~

Best Peach I’ve Ever Eaten:

eighteen years ago, the Pike Place Market,
an August morning in Seattle

with a breeze lifting off of the Sound,
the Sound between two mountain ranges,

and crossing ferries looking perfect on the water . . .
silent white to match the snowcaps . . .

and then that first bite.

Wind is there, yes, at least in these sections, but so are earth (rock) and fire (sun) and water most of all: ocean, river, snowcaps, and Puget Sound.


Mix it with grain and time, you get whiskey . . . with pigment and talent, you get art . . . with salt, and now you have a home for orcas. Mix it with imagining and memory, and I don’t feel quite so homesick anymore.

How do you spell “kayaker”? W-a-t-e-r.

How do you spell “hypnotic”? W-a-t-e-r.           

How do you spell “want” and “heart” and “rain”? W-a-t-e-r.



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 Terrain.org: 4th Annual Contest Winner and Issue 30. And listen to a new radio interview with Rob Carney.

Image of kayaker courtesy Pixabay.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.