OF GRASS Jarold
David Douglas. I became a tree,
the fir, pseudotsuga taxifolis.
one of Wordworth’s children,
through Oregon’s woods “more like a man
from something that he dreads than one
the thing he loved.” What did I seek so long
out of mind of Scotland? Whom Nature
like me, showing her eyes, goes far in dread—
and named my specimens of grass,
vines, and ferns, like Adam
taking dominion in a falling world.
liked me, thought me mad like them. Once
Columbia I thrashed a grinning thief
them all, “I’m no blanket man or boston,
know me as
the Man of Grass!” And having named
strange phylum, wherever I might wander
green labyrinth the Indians greeted
me like a
comic skookum, “Grass Man! Grass Man!”
me miles in search of giant pines
like sugar, so they promised, grinning.
limping in to camp at night, I saw
children run from me in terror. They were my mirror.
Umpqua River in October
night of wind and lightning ravaging the trees
I found at
last my Sugar Pine—Na-teel
Umpquas call it. Who’d believe me, munching there
on nuts as
sweet as toffee out of cones
of loaves? Alone, alone, bowing
grove of swaying towers, I felt
turning on the pin and center of my life.
great indifferent trees—how could I publish
sullen world what things alive they were?
sacred quite without my worship, each
day crash to earth without my witness.
them, all I knew was punyness of knowledge,
joy of any thinking reed.
fired my piece to bring down cones
filled with staring Indians stringing bows.
and ran away, and hid myself all night
tangle of vines unknown to science. No one to tell.
I headed back to Fort Vancouver.
everywhere was back. I went back to Scotland
the Royal Society, to my family:
nothing, dried specimens of another life.
I was good
for nothing but to find new worlds, they joked.
me out again, collecting, classifying, naming
but finding less and less beyond
blow-down and grizzly thickets of my mind.
cruising the Sandwich Islands, I jumped
to walk the slopes of Mauna Kea.
an earthen pit off-trail, a wild bull
trapped and battering the sides, berserk.
over and watched and watched—
brute energy, baffled by walls of earth until
Nature blindly naturing, life from life,
and fury ... When I had
it all in
mind, when I’d told the suave Latin
of all my
Oregon plants, when I’d seen
of sugar pines clearly once again,
I, the Man
of Grass, blessed the bull,
slipped over the raw green edge, and in.
Like a Canyon: New and Selected Poems, 1973-2010,
House, 2012, pgs 88-90 — courtesy Jarold Ramsey
printed in Hand-Shadows,
Quarterly Review of Literature, 1989