Old Roads, New Stories: Commonplace Beasts and Where to Find Them, by Rob Carney

Commonplace Beasts and Where to Find Them

By Rob Carney

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Old Roads, New Stories: A Literary Series


My Front Yard

I have a squirrel. Not a pet, a visitor. That’s important. It makes a difference. He started coming around last year, with his six movements-and-stillnesses per second, hanging around with the birds at the feeder, his cheeks like pictures of Dizzy Gillespie. And this year he’s back.

I wasn’t sure he would be because in January I’d seen a dead squirrel in the road—run over on 900 East, a few leaps from Fairmont Park—and worried it was him. But it wasn’t. He showed up again in April, zigzagging over to the porch steps, then backflip-sprinting to the tree trunk to execute a perfect leap-cling maneuver. Then he jumped down to break the pogo speed record, then sat in the grass, his tail like a question mark, watching while I went to get the mail. Like I was the interesting one…

The Floor of My Living Room

I wasn’t. I can’t move like that. I can barely even describe it. Especially not now, because my cat keeps using my pen as a chin scratcher, and he’s licking my arm to help groom me. He’s shedding a Maine coon fur-storm in advance of the coming heat wave, so he probably figures that I should be doing that too. And now his paws and head are on my forearm, which he’s holding down and using as a pillow, and my lack of total stillness is earning me a stare. I can see his point—and I’m trying to write without moving—but just like I can’t go face first down a tree trunk, I can’t use a pen without moving at least a little bit.

Herman Franks Ballpark, Salt Lake City

A while back the coaches threw an End-of-Season Party for the little leaguers: burgers, a few contests, a few raffles, and an Iron Man piñata. For Jameson, the piñata was the highlight, but it turns out I liked it too because when the bat finally blasted it open, and all the eight-year-olds became a scramble-crouch of grabbing, Jameson just tracked the head flying off and picked that up instead: packed with candy, easy to carry, pretty smart. In the ecosystem of childhood, it was like a sudden evolution.

Parkland, Washington

I saw a squirrel pull a similar trick one summer when I was still a student at PLU (Pacific Lutheran University). This was in front of the library just off the quad—the grass part with all the cedar trees, not the red brick plaza in front of Eastvold Hall.

A girl was sitting on a bench, having lunch (a bag of McDonald’s, a strawberry shake) and feeding her fries to a squirrel. She’d toss one. He’d eat it. She’d toss another, and so on, ’til the squirrel was close enough to take them from her hand. She reached, he took, then she turned away to get another, and that’s when the squirrel made off with her shake, and I promise I’m not lying. Somehow he held the lid in his teeth while running behind it like a leapfrog, some kind of bounding miracle, straight for a tree, with her coming after: “Hey!

The trunk is what stumped him: no branches. He wound up dropping the cup while scaling it, and that’s how I know the shake was strawberry. All this neon pink splopped out on the ground.

On the TV News

Even without the sound on, you can tell the politicos are lying. Impossible to look that smug without lying first to themselves.

Tonight and Tomorrow

My cat is already sleeping again, and I’d rather be up instead of lying here. But he’s 90 now in human years, and limping from what seems like hip pain, and he won’t drink water for the last two days, so I’m sticking nearby for quiet company. My smell is a smell he’s known forever. And his ears twitch slightly from the sound of pen on paper. And I’m glad my squirrel wasn’t the one run over. But in the morning I hope my cat goes out, and then stalks him from the mailbox to the moon.



Rob CarneyRob 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 Terrain.org: 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 squirrel by photoliver, 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.