Mothers and fathers grow accustomed to being asked by young children, "What's that? " Thus parents relearn the world by having to explain...

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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.

TED KOOSER, U.S. Poet Laureate

How must it be

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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.

Bruce Guernsey

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. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry. “American Life in Poetry” appears Fridays in Northwest Life.