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Grass & Essig

Having grown up in eastern South Dakota, I feel a love & affinity for the native plants of the prairie, most of which are some type of grass. It's difficult to get folks from elsewhere to appreciate how beautiful, various, & subtle grasses can be. But not obvious: you can spend a long time imagining that the prairie is monochromatic, but if you keep looking, all the variety and color suddenly jumps. We had lawns, sure, but we also had wild mixes of grama, bluestem, clover, pasque (the state flower), and many others that I didn't (& don't) know the name of.

I feel such hope today, because the brilliant & patient artist & Philadelphia native Matilda Essig (an old friend I recently reconnected with) does get it. She's restoring 5 acres of damaged grasslands in Arizona, and her art these days is intense closeups of grass: big enough that even the impatient can see. I've been reading & rereading a piece she wrote (link is in photo caption). "My work is about slowing down and noticing what is right under your nose, or, more aptly, your toes. Stop. Breathe. See. Let nature choreograph your day, or a moment therein." I'm excited that she has a residency next year at the Willa Cather Foundation's Memorial Prairie, where she will no doubt open my eyes & blow my mind even more. I love her work (& own 2 of her early paintings). I love that she reminds me that a piece of me (& all of us) is always part of the prairie. I love that she makes me feel we can enlarge what's possible.

This is a poem I wrote a really long time ago:

The Expanding Universe

Driving along the prairie
Until first light
Not knowing till first dawn
If it’s winter or fall:
Car steamy feet warm.
Subtle tender crawl of bright
Into the dusty windscreen
And I shake the nighttime deejay, nighttime
Long sweeping push
To get there, get going and get there:
There’s room
For expanse. Little purple field-flowers
Luminescent in my frayed vision.
I stop at the first town and give away some old shirts.
Gas spurts like love. Like coffee
The smell of gas soars.
The driving
As though grass ripens any old time.
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