Sunday, January 23, 2022

This Could Kill You Either Way

Here’s a story for you,
From 1938,
A “Talk of the Town” piece,

Twelfth of that November,
Part of The New Yorker’s
Coverage of the Great

Long Island Hurricane
That struck that September.
If the story’s to be

Believed, a man waiting
On a barometer
That he had mail-ordered

Eagerly opened it
When the package arrived,

The same day as the great
And unexpected storm.
Under sunny blue skies,

The new barometer
Gave a reading so low
It meant a hurricane

Of awesome dimensions
In the vicinity.
The man was so put out

At getting a broken
Barometer, he wrote
A disgusted letter

To the maker and marched
Down to his post office
To post it. By the time

He returned home, the storm
Had arrived and taken
Away barometer

And home along with it.
Was this unfortunate,
Or was it fortunate,

The barometer lost
As Cassandra, the man
Saved by his disgruntled

Refusal to believe
What his prophet told him?
Better lucky than smart,

But he wasn’t stupid.
He knew enough to parse
What that measurement meant,

Not enough to accept
The instrument correct.
How could he? Who warned him?

Stories, both true and false,
Love ironies like this,
Love to collapse in twists,

Yet still you trust these tales
More, for how right they feel,
But not bare measurements.

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