By Rob Carney

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Old Roads, New Stories: A Literary Series


My neighbor Mike has added an extra ecosystem to his yard. Nothing elaborate, just a daily pile of birdseed next to some groundcover bushes and vines. But it brings all sorts of birds around. Mice too. And other animals up the food chain.

One morning, for instance, when my son Jameson was four, he asked from behind me in his car seat, “What is that…?” and when I couldn’t find what he was looking at, “In our little tree.” We’d just pulled up to the curb out front, probably after pre-school (no leaves, but no snow on the ground yet, so this must have been November), and there it was: a hawk. Quite still. Bark-colored. Improbably big for the branch it was perched on, eight feet away from the sparrow zone. Waiting. And we waited, too.

Another time it was my cat next door, as tensed and patient as a spring-loaded sphinx, his eyes trained just beyond the birdseed on those vines. He knew there were mice there. Come out, you furry pinballs. Now. Or now.

There’s another story that’s sort of like this and sort of not. It has to do with a sea lion up in Seattle—very smart or very lazy, depending on your attitude; resourceful or a greedy fat-ass. What he was doing was camping out at the Ballard Locks, not even in the ship canal but right in front of the fish ladder, since to get from Puget Sound back to Lake Washington and finally to their spawning rivers, the salmon needed a way to climb up and around. Park your blubber, open your mouth, and they practically swim right in. They finally put him on a cargo plane, flew him all the way to Baja, and he swam right back.

I can’t help wishing that poetry did that too, incited that same sort of patience and pilgrimage. I like the idea a lot: a new book of poems like a fish ladder, an online journal (Terrain.org, for instance) like a daily delivery of birdseed. I’m probably crazy, but I can imagine people camped out in front of open books, or spring-coiled and waiting to see what darts out from under the greenery. Maybe a haiku—

                        Hate is a shovel;
                                    love is a river. Both dig.
                                                But one just digs holes.

or some parable—

A Likely Story

The man said he came from a parallel dimension. But he didn’t have a ray gun or 3-D glasses, so who knows? One guy tried to test him. “Tell me what number I’m thinking of,” he shouted, but the man said he couldn’t read minds. The rest was just crazy talk—something about vanity and greed, and blah blah blah. They didn’t care much for his imagery either: nudity, for one thing, in the bit about the emperor, and whoever heard of a goose laying golden eggs? They walked off grumbling…. With no moon showing through the clouds that night, there wasn’t much light to see the way.

or possibly a love poem—

She’s Like the Sky. That Endlessly Beautiful

Here’s the simple difference between hurricanes and storms,
earthquakes and aftershocks, tsunamis and waves: scale.

“Yeah? Well, so what,” you say. “It’s apples and oranges.
Or oranges and grapefruit. Or anyway, grapefruit and grapes.”

Not quite. See, I can throw rocks at your head,
or God can throw an asteroid; what do you pick?

I’m talking about jumping in versus swan dives,
sonic booms and whispers,

sparking versus inferno,
I’m talking about degree….

“Is she pretty?” As a swan dive.
“Sexy?” Earthquakes and aftershocks.

“But is she smart? Is she funny?” Hurricane. Tsunami.
“And does she make you happy?” Like asteroids and grapes.

April is National Poetry Month, so happy hunting. May your beaks and talons and foreclaws be sharp. May you find your way back from the Baja coast to eat a hundred poems.



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: 6th Annual Contest Finalist, 4th Annual Contest Winner, and Issue 30. And listen to a new radio interview with Rob Carney.

Photo of California sea lion by Chelsea Cameron, courtesy Shutterstock.

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