Bee Balm Delights as I Heal

Bees and honey flies dancing through the bee balm

The bee balm I planted this past April is in full bloom, and the bees are take greedy delight in it. The flowers are right next to a stone retaining wall, and when it’s shady, I love to sit there and watch the multitudes gyrating among the blossoms. It’s meditative and restorative as outside time suspends and I enter the bees’ eternal present.

There have been cataclysmic disruptions in the U.S. that have shaken many of us, if not most of us, to our core. It’s been hard to grapple with the demise of women’s reproductive and bodily rights as I also am healing from depression.

One of my sisters, a journalist, went to observe a protest in Atlanta, but I do not have energy to participate in these demonstrations. I’ve got to focus on restoring my nervous system, and gardening is one way I’ve been able to do that.

My backyard is completely wooded with no grass, just oak and hickory saplings trying to reach through the canopy of eighty-year old tulip poplars.

We lost a giant post oak in our front yard in a lightning storm about twelve years ago, which opened up a small patch of sunlight, and there I’ve cultivated a variety of plants, all perennials.

There are three blueberry bushes that yield a fair amount of fruit, which I leave for the birds. The cardinals, jays, and wrens feast among the branches in June.

I planted a brown turkey fig a few years ago that still doesn’t produce much fruit, but I do love looking at the sunlight filtering through its broad, fat leaves.

Sketchbook entry from May, before the heatwave kicked in.

Yesterday it was a bit cooler in the morning than it has been, so I spent a few hours pulling up my nemesis, an invasive species called chamber bitter. If you see a patch of this weed, yank it up immediately! It’s also called gripe weed, a another good name for my garden nemesis.

Chamber bitter is almost impossible to control without herbicide, and I have used a tiny bit of a homemade concoction of salt, soap, and vinegar on a few spots. Mostly, though, I pull the weeds up by the roots, venting my rage and grief as I go.

I’m including this poem below to show how gardening and time outdoors works its way into my poems. My life is fairly boring if watched from the outside––it’s the small observations that accumulate and fuse with a certain feeling that end up becoming poems.

Eve Clears Her Garden

Spring forced no life from the apple tree
so we took it down, dragging crown and trunk
to the yard for the boys to chop into logs.
Then the soil–taproots thick as wrists, severed
with pickax and machete, rocks and clay
loosened with tines of hoe and pitchfork. Leaves,
sheaves of them bleaching under this year’s
brown ones, peeled away. Worms slid through sleek mud
as blade tips carved nearby. From a tide
of mulch, pale as a sprig of thyme, a snake
flashed its stripes like a dart, and I dropped the spade.

There is flawless blue where the tree
once reached. Verbena and asters now pink
the hill instead of old geometries,
those leafless branches. A sphinx moth, some kind
of flying serpent, takes wary sips from
milkweed, then phlox, then flies in my direction,
as if to reach the pith of me and my temptation.
The urge is to coax seedlings into vines,
to answer the call of minstrel goldfinch,
to open my heart’s hive and free the bees
that seem to buzz between each breath, each rib.

(Republished here from my poetry collection, Swimming This, with FutureCycle Press, 2015)

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