Snowmen in forest with afternoon light

The Wizard and the Carpenter

By Rob Carney

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Old Roads, New Stories: A Literary Series

How much built is too much for the natural? How much before it’s unsustainable, even destructive in a permanent way? I don’t know, but I think the answer’s in the rearview mirror.

Still, I’m not about to say that all built things are bad. There are amazing things too.

Good Built:

  • movie projectors
  • stereos
  • the deck and menu and beer taps at Katy Downs on Commencement Bay
  • the towers that a kid stacks with Qwirkle tiles or Superstructs
  • the Space Needle
  • etc.

Bad Built:

  • indifference
  • bombs
  • bureaucracy
  • conspiracy theories (which are an insult to the word “built” and the word “theories”)
  • new apartment globs where the rent for 1-bedrooms starts at $1,400
  • and that’s just a start

A poem, of course, is also built no matter what Percy Shelley said about Winds of Spiritus and Inspiration. He’s not the best writer in the Shelley family anyway (although “Ozymandias” was right on target, and that poem never gets old). No, the best writer in their household was Mary. She wrote figure-8s around him, and around me too; I couldn’t write Frankenstein either. But I did write this parable recently:

The Wizard and the Carpenter

A man was building a house.
He’d fired the bricks and quarried the stone.

He’d even gone nights without sleeping,
weighing Lumber versus composite wood,

composites or bamboo?
then finally decided on wood: It seemed

more right,
more elemental.

There was a Master Glazier at the top of a mountain,
so he climbed it up through the ice-fog

where under ice-blue skies he learned the chi
of window installation.

After he’d plumbed it, he’d roofed it
into geometric proofs against the weather,

turned wires into constellations,
room by room.

Then the doors lived easy on their hinges.
Then the floors were laid, then the furniture settled,

when somewhere a wizard pushed a button
and made his whole house disappear.

“Oops,” said the wizard,
and: “I’ve never seen that happen,”

and: “Normally no one would push that button,
not unless you requested it…

Well, somebody must’ve, and this isn’t my department,
they’re at lunch, they’re in a meeting, they’re

in a building hidden in the fourth dimension, so
contact them to initiate a Look-See because

no one can really look into this because
my phone is melting, there are

bandits here, I’ve been signaled
that a meteor’s about to disconnect me

so why don’t you just go ahead
and build another house.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“No. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Not an upbeat New Year’s kickstart, I guess—not unless your resolution is to think less highly of “apps” and “upgrades” and those VR blinders—but I really do mean to be hopeful. There are many good kinds of everyday building and, therefore, so much to celebrate: a snowman, for instance. Or a stack of dishes after dinner. Or even just a handful of CD cases: Alex the Astronaut kicking things off, and then The Kinks and James Brown next.



Rob CarneyRob Carney’s first collection of creative nonfiction, Accidental Gardens, is out now from Stormbird Press, and his new book of poems, Call and Response, is available from Black Lawrence Press. Previous books include Facts and Figures, The Last Tiger is Somewhere, The Book of Sharksand 88 Maps.

Read an interview with Rob Carney appearing in “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 and Trinity University Press.
Read poetry by Rob Carney appearing in 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 TeamDAF, courtesy Shutterstock.

Orcas in sunlit water
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