Sea kayak pointed into sunset over islands

Still Life with Oceans

By Rob Carney

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Old Roads, New Stories: A Literary Series

Maybe we’re bound to hear everything once. Like the guy I heard up in Valdez, Alaska, yelling and swearing at the eagles in the trees along shore.

A charter-boat captain, and the eagles messed with his business: “They’ll swoop down and take the damn salmon right off your line,” plus something else they do to their mothers.         

So, Alaska: I’m saying I’ve been there.

But I’ve never seen the Arctic Ocean: all those ice floes, and narwhals, and puffins with their alien faces, and everything everywhere white or Neptune-blue, and the stench of the walruses—crazy—like a wave, like a slap, like a club to the head, and all of them—hundreds—bigger than my car. Then a humpback whale comes breaching. Then a tanker arrives with the flag of Chevron, right there plowing through the Garden of Eden.

What the hell?


You can stand a bit south of Monterey Bay and love the Pacific Ocean. Nothing but clouds and water from there to Japan, from there to Australia.

Plus, it’s deep: 36,000 feet.

You can stand there and toss in the Sierras 11 million times.


Then north, the Pacific takes a detour, turning right at the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where it heads along east and south into Puget Sound, my favorite body of water.

Apparently, it’s the favorite of octopuses too. The world’s biggest gathering. A lot of them under the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Good places for hiding, I guess, since the first bridge snapped and collapsed.

All of that rubble to tuck in.

All those cables to aid with your octopus disguise.

And so many ferry boats too: to Vashon, to Bremerton, to San Juan Island. The Greeks thought Death was a ferryman, and hopefully it’s true because just think about it, What better way to cross over? Seattle behind you, and water all around, while up ahead—jagged and snowy—the Olympic Mountains wait.


Is the Sea of Tranquility tranquil?

There’s no traffic there yet, so probably.


When I was five, I got lost in a sea of people. My mom and dad called it Philadelphia.

First the train slowing down, then the steps, and it’s noisy, and everyone faster and taller, and probably I dropped my coat because I reached for something and my hand let go, and then my dad was somewhere in the people and my mom was somewhere in the people and the people were so many and bumping me down, it was only for a minute or two, but still…


Or anger, or people’s self-doubt, or their loss—can I say these things are oceans? There’s probably some of it in every other house on the Eastern Seaboard.

Even windows facing the Atlantic can’t fix that.


And then there’s time, like a seventh ocean, and we’re just here in a kayak. Or we’re cutting across it in a ski boat, face-to-the-wind, while a cormorant plunges after what?

Probably time since that’s what a fish is finally, at least from the bird’s point of view. And sometimes from ours, especially if we’re dying.

Which all of us are.



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 photo by Harrison Haines, courtesy Pexels. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.