Two Pictures: Song of Herself

Yesterday my mind turned to grass. Not the kind you roll and smoke. What you spread a picnic blanket on or trim with a mower. My thoughts were flying off in every direction, my head in the clouds. It was time to focus and come down to earth. Which is exactly what I did: I went out for a walk to cop a squat in the park, and when I found a nice little patch of clover I sat down on it. I leaned and loafed at my ease observing a spear of spring grass. And now I’m a rambunctious seven-year-old boy in the suburban backyard of my youth, imagining Martha alongside me. She’s the girl next door, but it’s not what you’re thinking. Together, we’re with our bellies to the ground, examining the dirt. It was her idea; being over twice my age, she was smarter than me. “Take the foot square of grass in front of your nose and really look hard at it. What do you see?” Martha was born in the early 50s, before the polio vaccine, so hunkering down on the ground and remaining still there for awhile was not the exercise in patience for her that it was for me.

Flash forward seven years. I’m a curious teen getting into culture and art. In a coffee table book I discover Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World,” and picture the immobilized Martha lying aslant in the middle of that desolate field of dry grass instead, looking back at her house in the distance. What is she looking for, and how will she get back home? Then another image: Albrecht Durer’s famous engraving, “Great Piece of Turf (Study in Weeds).” Dandelions, plantains, poke, unruly grasses—all teaming with life.

“Look really hard at it. What do you see?” she had insisted. It was then that I realized, probably for the first time, one of life’s most useful skills. If you truly want to penetrate below the surface of things, and discover what’s really there, you’ve got to take a little at a time and concentrate, while remaining very still till it comes to you.