I hate cutting grass. I live in Houston—humid, no real winter to speak of—so, I cut grass year-round. If I could, I would have all of it, front and backyard, replaced with pebbles and rocks. My wife won’t let me, and my kids would no doubt add that to the list of ways I have ruined their lives. Every week, I put on work gloves and old shoes, and get to mowing the lawn. Every time, I think of Whitman. Three lines, to be precise:
A child said, What is the 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
And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
I hate just about every aspect of cutting the grass—the mower’s grumbling, the gasoline fumes, the green stains on my shoes, the time it takes...Don’t even get me going about how much hatred wells up if the carburetor gets clogged or I run out of fuel. Yet, when those lines come to me—sometimes early in the chore, and at others right before I finish—I may not forget that I am performing the bane of my existence, but, for a moment, I do step out of it. I’m not saying it is a better moment that I step into. In fact, sometimes, it is worse: when I hear in my mind “the beautiful uncut hair of graves,” I often go to my father’s land, in the Middle East, which he does not have to mow but which is a graveyard the way Whitman’s America was during its civil war. A beautiful, terrible metaphor, that keeps coming back, once a week, every week.