Old Roads, New Stories: A Literary Series
There’s a line in a poem by Tomaz Salamun where he says, “one day I thought who’ll be the first one to count up to a million.” I love that. I dig it because it’s both weird and reassuring. It tells me the pinball thoughts in my own head aren’t that weird after all.
Like this one, for instance: Does there have to be a sacred point for a story to be a parable?
And also this one: Do people really exalt and vow obedience to technology, or is this just a recent kind of deus-ex-machina thinking? Should I have a séance and contact Aristotle and ask him, or would doing that be pointless since I can’t speak Ancient Greek, so now it’s me and a bearded vapor-guy trying to communicate by pantomime, when the phone rings again, and it’s the Awareness Association constantly haranguing me for money, and Aristotle’s pointing at the thing in my hand and running through a series of faces, and believe me, I get it; it’s a phone; he’s never seen one; but he just looks strange: sort of wide-eyed, followed by forehead-scrunchy, with his lips together in an O-shape slid to the right—This guy’s a philosopher?! Holy-Moly—what is he, curious, flirting, scientifically interested, disgusted by a world chock-full of beeping interruptions, asking for the bathroom, asking for a milkshake, what? Or maybe he wants me to tell them, “Sorry, Aristotle isn’t home.”
So anyway, no, a parable doesn’t have to have a sacred point. It just has to be narrative, constructed from a metaphor, with people not animals as characters, accessible, and short:
The Woman Who Kept on Talking
The woman kept talking in the plaza, even at night when all but the cats had gone home. The people had suppers to eat. There were things on TV. She had wind in her hair and wrapped around her, but still the woman talked. After days in the sun, she must have been thirsty, but her voice kept on like the memory of water, always there.
Sometimes a few would make a game of it, waving hands in front of her eyes to see if she would blink. They said that her eyes were quite beautiful. Not that the ones playing chess would ever notice. Not the bakers at their shop counters either, their aprons dusted with flour and all the hours of intricate sugar. She was too far to see, and they didn’t care anyway.
Crows, however, kept her company, so some said her talking was witchcraft. Others complained that the woman ought to be at home, or at work, or just somewhere else and quiet, but she didn’t stop. She kept on talking…
past the hour when her megaphone batteries died. Past the month the last forest in the West caught fire. Past the year the Great Salt Lake disappeared, became dust, and the dust choked the Wind, and the Wind had a voice, some said, that seemed almost familiar. Like the voice of that woman who had kept on talking. Even in the box they’d built and shut her inside.
Read an interview with Rob Carney appearing in Terrain.org: “The Ocean is Full of Questions.”
Read Rob Carney’s Letter to America in Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy, published by Terrain.org and Trinity University Press.
Read poetry by Rob Carney appearing in Terrain.org: 6th Annual Contest Finalist, 4th Annual Contest Winner, and Issue 30. And listen to an interview on Montana Public Radio about The Book of Sharks.
Header image by Vladimir Sazonov, courtesy Shutterstock.