American Life in Poetry: Column 078

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Mothers and fathers grow accustomed to being asked by young children, “What’s that?” Thus parents relearn the world by having to explain things they haven’t thought about in years. In this poem the Illinois poet Bruce Guernsey looks closely at common, everyday moss and tries to explain its nature for us. I admire the way the poem deepens as the moss moves from being a slipcover to wet dust on a gravestone.

Moss

How must it be
to be moss,
that slipcover of rocks?—
imagine,

greening in the dark,
longing for north,
the silence
of birds gone south.

How does moss do it,
all day
in a dank place
and never a cough?—

a wet dust
where light fails,
where the chisel
cut the name.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Reprinted from Peripheral Vision, published by Small Poetry Press, Pleasant Hill, CA. Copyright © 1997 by Bruce Guernsey and reprinted by permission of the author, whose latest book is “The Lost Brigade,” Water Press and Media, 2005. Introduction copyright © 2018 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.