THE BORDER LIFE

A CHILD SAID, WHAT IS GRASS?                                          

By Walt Whitman

Illuminated by Riverdave Owen,  

Recited In Memory of Dr. Holger Nygard 1921 - 2015

Duke University East Campus, Durham, NC,  August 1, 2015


A child said, What is grass? 

Fetching it to me with full hands

How could I answer the child 

I do not know what it is any more than he

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition                                                                                                                    Dr. Nygard

Out of hopeful green stuff woven.


Or, I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord

A scented gift and remembrance designedly dropped

Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners

That we may see and remark 

And ask, Whose?


Or, I guess the grass is itself a child

The produced babe of vegetation.


Or, I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic 

Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones

Growing among black folks and white folks

Kanuk, Tuckahoe and Congressman, Cuff

Canadians and Southerners, politicians and slaves

I give them the same, I receive them the same.


And now the grass appears as the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you, Oh curling grass

It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men

It may be if I had known them I would have loved them

It may be you are from old people and from women

And from offspring taken soon out of their mother’s laps

And here you are the mother’s lap.


This grass is too green to be from the white heads of old mothers

Greener than the colorless beards of old men

Too green to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths

Oh, I perceive after all so many uttering tongues

And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.


I wish I could translate these hints of the dead young men and women

And the hints about old men and mothers 

And the offspring taken soon out of their laps

What do you think has become of the young and old men

And what do you think has become of the women and children?


They are all alive and well somewhere

The smallest sprouts show there is really no death

And if ever there was 

It led life forward and does not wait at the end to arrest it

All goes onward and outward and nothing collapses

For to die is different than what any one supposed  

And luckier!