If We Can Believe Statistics,
then sixteen people reading this are thinking about sex.
Or sixteen were until I mentioned it;
now there’s a ninety-percent chance
that number is all,
which proves that math isn’t boring,
that math puts one and one together, baby,
and the curves on a fine-lookin’ 3 can turn you on . . .
or maybe it’s a chiseled 7, I don’t know.
Somebody hot, though,
on the other side of your equal sign;
meaning, you + mmmmm = her,
or both. That’s a possibility. In fact,
eight percent, statistically speaking.
If you don’t mind, I’m going to end the poem now.
There’s a one-in-three chance you know why.
The Person You Love Is 72.8% Water
I don’t know if I’m going to hell,
but I like toast for breakfast,
and I can eat breakfast
any time of day.
A woman’s slender arms
make me wish I was a painter.
Cats belong in every bookstore. They’ll make the words
seep deeper in your bones.
If God and I were on a rocky beach,
we’d search out perfect skipping stones.
I’d tell Him my favorite miracle:
water into wine.
My favorite mood is Angry. That’s a lie.
My favorite sin is lying. That’s not true,
but it dresses up the story
like a good storm dresses up the sky,
like fire and fiddles take wood and make it speak.
I know, I know—water isn’t wine.
But at night, when someone’s thirsty,
you can bring it, cold as heaven. They can drink.
[in Story Problems (Somondoco Press, 2011)]
She’s a Pisces; No Wonder I’m Capsized
No wonder I’m out here doing the backstroke,
floating on this soft black water
from reflected star to star.
No wonder I’ve half-forgotten
how to spell boat or shore or Coast Guard.
No wonder my heart feels splashy now instead of smart.
A Capricorn would want a surer plan.
An Aries might meet me in the door, saying
“How come you’re late? And why are you . . .
what the hell?—what is this, salt?”
No, she’s definitely Pisces not Gemini;
Gemini girls will be skinny dipping one day,
toweling off and off beyond the dunes the next.
She’s definitely Pisces,
and I’m long, long gone from any lighthouse,
and I can’t say I’m much of a fisherman.
But I think I can learn to sink,
then a better way to swim.
[in Weather Report (Somondoco Press, 2006)]
Gathering Pages for The Book of Sharks
“What do you do for a living?” is a complicated question
since for a living and for money aren’t the same.
Living means a shoreline is better than a bank vault—
all those deposits of driftwood—
and wealth is measured
by the vivid moments in your life.
Money’s just currency,
though it wants to sell you your future.
It has no past, no story explaining the sky,
comparing the stars to a shark bite.
It’s plastic littering the sand dunes;
it isn’t the grass.
Let’s say I’m a gatherer
in the same way clouds are gatherers,
which isn’t a ticket to riches
unless you value rain.
Some say sharks are the ocean’s anger at us
for being in its future.
They say it knew riptides and hurricanes
wouldn’t be enough,
that it would take teeth to teach us, to move us
from selfishness to awe.
Most who hold to this story are quiet,
but they mark the days of past attacks:
a splash of whiskey in their coffee
while they listen to the waves,
listen to the wind chimes they’ve polished,
then scrub the weather from their porches,
paint their doors.
These chores are their rituals,
performed so you wouldn’t even know.
After all, red doors seem common enough . . .
more like keeping up appearances
than keeping track.
Others focus on a different idea
and spend each April fasting.
That’s when coastal waters come alive with food,
nine miles of sardines
and every predator: swordfish
stabbing up from underneath, and birds
harpooning from above . . .
sea lions, dolphins,
horizons of shark fins. All.
They wait until sundown,
then parade from door to door, trading music
for oysters, a gallon of last year’s wine,
and nobody thinks about winter,
nobody thinks about dying.
Only a few of them, the oldest,
hunger for their boats.
In the oldest story we know of, sharks came first:
the perfect idea, perfect shape.
And then the rest of Creation—the sun, the moon,
this planet—to give them a home.
We live on that afterthought,
build boats to crisscross the water,
build churches like islands
surrounded by our cars.
We kill sharks by the millions
and sing along from our hymnals.
In the end, standing at the gates of heaven,
what if we’re asked one question: “How are My sharks?”
The best understanding I’ve heard was offered by a boy.
His father had died of a fever the summer before.
He said, “People think dying
is for every kind of animal but us.
Like it’s so unfair we aren’t special.”
I was just a boy then too.
We’d been trying to climb down the cliff face,
and now we were stuck halfway
with eleven hours ’til light. . . .
He looked past his feet
at the water below us,
maybe to add up the distance.
He said, “My dad would have had the guts to jump from here.
He’d have been on the beach already, building us a fire.”
Given their name, it should be obvious
what salmon sharks eat.
Still, you never expect it: first a tug
and a sockeye’s resistance,
then a yank
like the day is having a heart attack.
Just seconds. Only ’til the line
snaps and a gray fin breaks the surface. . . .
The sky isn’t the only home of lightning.
The ocean has some too.
I’m a gatherer of what’s been gathered:
not like the beach,
more like a kid with a bucket;
not a net,
more a stall at the market, selling fish . . .
or the scale, or the news-wrap.
As purposes go,
it’s not a bad purpose to have.
You can be the man buying coho for dinner,
or the woman carrying flowers home for a vase.
I’ll be the shelf the vase sits on.
I’ll be the tap on the faucet filling it up.
Not the ocean,
just an ear that listens.
Not the shark,
just a gatherer of memories swimming away.
Rob Carney grew up in Washington state. He is the author of three books and three chapbooks of poems, most recently Story Problems (Somondoco Press, 2011) and Home Appraisals (Plan B Press, 2012). He is the winner of the 2014 Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation Poetry Prize and the 2013 Terrain.org Poetry Prize. His work has appeared in Cave Wall, Mid-American Review, Redactions, Sugar House Review, and dozens of other journals, as well as in the anthology Flash Fiction Forward (W.W. Norton, 2006). He lives in Salt Lake City.