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“One misty, moisty morning, when cloudy was the weather...”

I can't help it. When I left the house Sunday morning, those lines popped into my head, as they always do on days when a soft mist shrouds the slough.

I'm not the only one. Due to an overdeveloped sense of curiously, I looked up that particular poem and found that it dates back to 1690. Made me smile, to think of 330 years of foggy mornings and the thousands, even millions of people reciting those lines to themselves.

Yet the actual poem has nothing to do with the weather.

Poetry is like that, a moment or a line can take your mind to a place you never expected to go. When our son hears “Afghanistan,” he’s taken to a Rudyard Kipling poem. “When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains and the women come out to cut up what remains, roll to your rifle and blow out your brains and go to your God like a soldier.” It's a little grim, but he spent a few years in the Marine Corps so, you know. It does make you wish our leaders would read some appropriate poetry before getting us involved in places where getting involved never seems to end well.

Three times in my life, people have sent me the same Marge Piercy poem, which appears to compare me to a water buffalo. Believe it or not, it's the nicest compliment I’ve ever been paid.

I've never really understood poetry. It's such a powerful medium, and kind of inscrutable. I think I know the difference between a good poem and a bad poem, but I’d certainly keep my opinions to myself and I never, ever try to write poetry. The last poem I attempted was in about fourth grade when I looked at a baling crew and was moved to write, “What, what do they say, up to their necks in hay.” A few years after I wrote those lines, I joined the baling crew myself and the experience became a lot less poetical.

I've known a few poets, and they can be just as inscrutable as their poems. The talent that turns mundane into condensed magic doesn't necessarily make for a person who is competent at navigating grocery stores or tax forms.

But that's okay. The tradeoff is worth it. A friend of mine once wrote a poem titled, “Playing the Black Piano for the Angel of Death.” It was about a time when he was sitting with a friend who was close to death and the friend asked him to play something. He sat down at the piano and thought to himself, “These may be the last sounds this good man hears on this earth.” It was a moment that called for something a little deeper than “Chopsticks,” and it probably took a poet to understand that. Because he lived through that moment and was able to write about it, it changed the way I look at the world, and changed the way I move through those moments when everything you do or say matters.

Just something I was thinking about on a misty moisty morning when I left the house to do chores. I recited it first to the ducks, but they didn't care.

I hope you do.

Copyright 2023 Brent Olson


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