Alms to the Poor




That year I discovered the virtues
of plants as companions: they don’t
argue, they don’t ask for much,
they don’t stay out until 3:00 A.M., then
lie to you about where they’ve been…

I can’t summon the ambition
to repot this grape ivy, or this sad
old cactus, or even move them out
onto the porch for the summer
where their lives would certainly
improve.  I give them
a grudging dash of water-
that’s all they get.

The truth is that if I permit them
to live, they will go on giving
alms to the poor: sweet air, miraculous
flowers, the example of persistence.
~Jane Kenyon from “Killing of Plants”

During my dorm room years
and city apartment dwelling days,
this former farm girl was reconciled
to no pets allowed,
so I surrounded myself with an indoor garden,
every square inch of window sill
occupied by a living thing
whose survival depended only partially on me.

Those plants sustained me,
cheered me, moved me,
moved with me to windows
with better light and grander views.
Despite my neglect,
they persisted, often thrived,
and gave back to my shriveled city spirit
far beyond any water or repotting offered.

Somehow these miracles in chlorophyll
knew just what I needed when I needed it:
they fed me when I was starving
for something live,
something beautiful,
something that knew exactly what to do
and what to become
when I had no clue.





2 thoughts on “Alms to the Poor

  1. The Thanksgiving Cactus is stunning; never saw one before. Not surprised that you have a ‘green thumb.’
    But then, you are a life-giver, a nurturer. The medical profession was a natural choice for you.
    Me? — after several sincere attempts to grow indoor plants, I mistakenly sent them to an unintended death –
    even cacti did not escape my ministrations and that is difficult to do with them. The ‘c.o.d.’ was usually
    overwatering or overfeeding, or perhaps they would have preferred to chill out with Brahms instead of Wagner
    when I played my stereo.


  2. I have a jade plant that was given to me in a tiny pot by a friend over 35 years ago. It sat on my desk at various jobs and is now in my front window at home. It has grown large, died back, and been re-potted numerous times. It really isn’t all that beautiful but it is enduring and now such a fixture in our home that I can’t imagine letting go of it.


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