blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1


audio version


Some Grass along a Ditch Bank

I don’t know what happens to grass.
But it doesn’t die, exactly.
It turns white, in winter, but stays there,
A few yards from the ditch,
Then comes back in March,
Turning a green that has nothing
To do with us.
Mostly, it’s just yellow, or tan.
It blends in,
Swayed by the wind, maybe, but not by any emotion,
Or partisan stripe.
You can misread it, at times:
I have seen it almost appear
To fight long & well
For its right to be, & be grass, when
I tried pulling it out.
I thought I could almost sense it digging in,
Not with reproach, exactly,
But with a kind of rare tact that I miss,
Sometimes, in others.
And besides, if you really wanted it out,
You’d have to disc it under,
Standing on a shuddering Case tractor,
And staring into the distance like
Somebody with a vision
In the wrong place for visions.
With time, you’d feel silly.
And, always, it comes back:
At the end of some winter when
The sky has neither sun, nor snow,
Nor anything personal,
You’d be wary of any impulse
That seemed mostly cosmetic.
It’s all a matter of taste,
And how taste changes.
Besides, in March, the fields are wet;
The trucks & machinery won’t start,
And the blades of the disc won’t turn,
Usually, because of the rust.
That’s when you notice the grass coming back,
In some other spot, & with a different look
This time, as if it had an idea
For a peninsula, maybe, or its shape
Reclining on a map you almost
Begin to remember.
In March, my father spent hours
Just piecing together some puzzle
That might start up a tractor,
Or set the tines of a cultivator
Or spring tooth right,
And do it without paying money.
Those rows of gray earth that looked “combed,”
Between each row of vines,
And run off to the horizon
As you drive past?
You could almost say
It was almost pretty.
But this place isn’t France.
For years, they’ve made only raisins,
And a cheap, sweet wine.
And someone had to work late,
As bored as you are, probably,
But with the added headache of
Owning some piece of land
That never gave up much
Without a mute argument.
The lucky sold out to subdividers,
But this is for one who stayed,
And how, after a few years,
He even felt sympathy for grass—
Then felt that turn into a resentment
Which grew, finally, into
A variety of puzzled envy:
Turning a little grass under
With each acre,
And turning it under for miles,
While half his life, spent
On top of a tractor,
Went by, unnoticed, without feast days
Or celebrations—opening his mailbox
At the roadside which was incapable
Of looking any different—
More picturesque, or less common—
The rank but still blossoming weeds
Stirring a little, maybe,
As you drove past,
But then growing still again.  

(reprinted by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press)

   Contributor’s notes
   In the City of Light
   My Story in a Late Style of Fire

   Levis Remembered

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