What Is the Grass?

On the margin
in the used text
I’ve purchased without opening

—pale green dutiful vessel—

some unconvinced student has written,
in a clear, looping hand,
Isn’t it grass?

How could I answer the child?
I do not exaggerate,
I think of her question for years.

And while first I imagine her the very type
of the incurious, revealing the difference
between a mind at rest and one that cannot,

later I come to imagine that she
had faith in language,
that was the difference: she believed

that the word settled things,
the matter need not be looked into again.

And he who’d written his book over and over, nearly ruining it,
so enchanted by what had first compelled him
—for him the word settled nothing at all.

From Deep Lane, published by W. W. Norton. Copyright © 2015 by Mark Doty.