Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Moisture

I called a good friend in San Diego today and told him that in the Northwest, we were experiencing a day of cold wind and hard rain. He said in San Diego it was, well, San Diego; sunny. I cursed gently, insincerely, and humorously; still I was envious.

A good day, then, to consider moisture, a word that, in English, goes back to the medieval period (according to the OED online), specifically to medieval philosophy, which at that time incorporated science. The word referred to the liquid inherent in animals and plants, and often it was called "radical moisture." One etymological root of "radical," apparently and ironically, is "root." So I guess radical moisture was natural moisture--the water infused in the tissue, if that's the right term, of plants and animals.

Here's a poem that meditates on moisture. I think the poem is more medieval than radical.

Moisture: A Study


Cleopatra’s perspiration; water her slaves
drank; Rasputin’s mucous; my great-aunt’s
tears, dispatched when, in Sweden’s north,
she discovered she was pregnant by
Sig the traveling fiddle-player; sweat on
Sig's fiddle-strings; denatured
alcohol of perfume dabbed behind an
ear before a party; party in which the
room gets humid because of human heat;
saliva I expressed
that summer we built the long stone wall
beside the cemetery; water in the mortar
of that wall: any of this and all other
historical moisture might reside in raindrops
dimpling a fish-pond I stare at now
using moist eyeballs. It’s no news we’re
mostly water, so after we die, most of what was
us is in earthly circulation—puddle, Pacific,
creek, blizzard, mist; also in other bodies
full of water, rats in Paris, a cat in Nairobi,
a toad napping next to damp gravestones,
not to put too fine a point on it.


Copyright 2007
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