Old Road, New Stories: Modern Legacies, by Rob Carney

Modern Legacies

By Rob Carney

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Old Roads, New Stories: A Literary Series

for Ryan Zinke

  1. I teach a Modern Legacies course at Utah Valley University. I call it “Futuristic Fiction: Paranoia or Prophecy?”
  2. I supplement novels with film clips and stories, pair them with Plato’s The Republic and current events.
  3. Tolkien’s The Two Towers isn’t part of it. Wrong genre, for starters. Too many elves.
  4. But, damn, if the Golden Hall of Meduseld isn’t a lot like Pennsylvania Avenue.
  5. And isn’t the motive of Wormtongue exactly the same?—unchecked self-promotion.
  6. Think of what Tolkien’s creep could have done with a gizmo as wormy as Twitter.
  7. Worse, our Wormtongue-in-Chief has Wormtongues of his own—whisper whisper
  8. like Secretary Zinke suggesting, for instance, that too much land and ocean life are being preserved.
  9. “My ass!” roars Teddy Roosevelt. He wads up Zinke’s monuments report, yells, “Pull,” and blasts it from the air.
  10. “Good shot, Mr. President.”
  11. “I don’t need flattery from suck-ups, Junior.” Then the spirit of Roosevelt exits. End of scene.
  12. How beautiful would that be? The sun taking a last look back before setting, turning the Potomac to silver, and Zinke alone with his thoughts, whatever they are.
  13. I doubt they’d be this: We ought to make the Grand Canyon smaller. But I don’t know for sure.
  14. Here’s something you might not know: Back in the days of its designation, locals opposed the Grand Canyon. “Strictly mineral country,” they called it. This was when it was all just flatland. So they dug and picked and shoveled after treasure. They hoisted with pulleys. Their pack mules hauled rock. But the only thing they uncovered was a river and eons of useless view.
  15. It’s time now to mention Montana—stepping down from the bus in Polson, nothing but an orchard between me and Flathead Lake. It looked like the Rockies were floating on the water.
  16. There’s a word for that. It’s reflection.
  17. Or that spot along the Clark Fork River where the piling is topped by an osprey nest.
  18. Or rounding a hilltop highway, bound for Great Falls, and openness everywhere, suddenly there, forever as the ocean, only green. All grass. No billboards. And the road straight out in front of me, up to the sky.
  19. Well, not really; that was just the feeling: so much and so all-at-once that I had to stop the truck. It was making my eyes tear.
  20. Secretary Zinke, you’re from there, so what’s going on? What’s wrong with your vision?
  21. Are the tribes of Utah—past, present, future—worth less than others in your factoring? Imagine right now that I’m your teacher, and it’s fourth-grade math; I’m saying, “Show me your work.”
  22. And imagine, further, that you’re listening. Not tuned-out-staring, but for real: Pacific tuna will never recover, not if you “right size” Maritime Monuments,
  23. and “The Creator of All” means Creator of atolls. Of coral. Of moray eels.
  24. Or imagine that Karma is a shark, and you’re boatless… probably dead from thirst and exposure… which is maybe merciful and maybe not, depending on your view of the oceanic whitetip.
  25. If you soaked the moon in napalm, lit it on fire, that’s Northern Canada. That’s the trading of tar sands for land and air. Immeasurable in miles per gallon.
  26. Sometimes I wonder what the future will think, assuming that people are a part of it. How many rpms on their constant question: Why?



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.

Header photo of moray eel by kevskoot, courtesy Pixabay.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.