Old Roads, New Stories: Learning from Birds, by Rob Carney

Learning from Birds

By Rob Carney

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Old Roads, New Stories: A Literary Series

There’s a woodpecker two yards down that I could set my watch to if I wore a watch—8:11 a.m., four mornings in a row, up and down the light pole.

BA-da DA-da DA-da DA-da DA. He’s working in trochaic pentameter, jackhammer fast. Then pausing to listen, or maybe to mind-read tucked away termites, I don’t know. He might be tuned to vibrations in the wood and using them for radar. Me, I try to catch the rhythm of a sentence, so maybe he’s doing that too—woodpecker writing—and his pauses aren’t listening in as much as listening back, then imagining forward.

Forward to what?

In his case, bugs; and in my case, Why that light pole? It’s new, a replacement for the one knocked down, snapped off shin-high in a windstorm. But just because it’s new to our street doesn’t mean the log is new. It might have been dead or felled in the woods, the home of beetles for a decade, then a lumber crew brought it to the city, then they sold it to Lighting and Maintenance, who spiffed it up with an arm and a lamp, so it’s “new.” Though it isn’t really. It just means our language has to hunt and stab, the same as any woodpecker. There’s exactness and rightness in there somewhere, but you have to dig.

Perhaps he wants a vantage point since cats keep coming like phantoms. Or it’s aesthetic, and he’s drawn to straight lines like some are drawn to rhymes. It could be a matter of principle since trees are rooted in dignity, so to grab a hold and use them just seems wrong. They’re more than givers of attention, or someone’s future firelight, or the answer you didn’t have to work for, or oxygen, or food. They’re the planet’s Librarians of Green, and this woodpecker knows it, and we should too.

I’m only guessing, of course. I haven’t conducted an interview. There’s a number in the phone book for Salt Lake City’s urban forester, so I could call right now and get a better guess, but I don’t want to know. I mean, what if it’s ordinary?—like Light poles don’t have bark you have to drill through. Think about all your own shortcuts.

Speaking of which, I’m going to skip the conclusion and stick this fable here instead:


After They Put up the Duck Crossing Sign

After they put up the duck crossing sign, the ducks
quit crossing the street there.

That’s the way I like them: pioneers,
inspiring GORE-TEX with their water-resistant feathers

and getting their calcium from snail shells
instead of milk.

One prefers nesting in my doorway, quacking
for attention, then it paints the sky

with loop-de-loops, flying away.
Another just ran for Neighborhood Council

because it wanted a trampoline bowling alley.
“Like bowling,” it said, “but with trampolines for lanes.”

We must seem tame to them,
debating on yellows for our caution signs:

Which one stands out in thunderstorms?
Which looks best as the evening slips into night?



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 woodpecker by ginger, courtesy Pixabay.

Estate by Elizabeth Dodd

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