Letter from Home

Piecing it All Together, Russell Steven Powell oil on canvas, 24x18
Piecing it All Together, oil on canvas, 24×18


July 2019

I am blessed, immersed in flora

that faithfully as tides 

sends me tumbling every day 

toward sunlight; exercise; fresh air; 

and a wake-up splash of my senses.

Maturing gardens fill nearly every corner of our yard, 

and they have never looked more colorful. 

We’ve had decent weather 

and provided considerable care. 

Every morning, before coffee, 

I haul up from the basement water 

from the dehumidifier and pour it over 

coleus and impatiens beneath a Norway maple.

I’m on the south-facing porch before seven 

with my dog Molly and a mugful of coffee, 

drinking in the scene as a cyclist speeds by,

trying to outrace the cycling heat.

Layer upon layer of greenery and blooms: 

overflowing flower boxes and urns on the porch; 

beds lining both sides of the brick walkway 

leading to the asphalt sidewalk; 

and, beyond, nearly a dozen separate gardens 

filling up the long rectangle, formerly lawn, 

between sidewalk and street. 

Early narcissus, sweet peony, 

bleeding heart, and iris

have given way to 

bubblegum bee balm and balloon flower, 

spikes of purple veronica,

flights of yellow coreopsis, 

thunder and lightning rising from mint-and-cream leaves,

sweet pea, heavy with white blossoms, ascending the metal arbor, 

drooping arctic poppy buds that pop pastel, 

and annuals in every shade: 

salmon and vermillion geranium, 

purple nicotiana, red-orange marigold, 

rose and lemon zinnia;

cosmos (pink and orange) from seed; 

volunteer cleome (pink and white), 

mauve amaranth, yellow-orange calendula,

blue lobelia, Queen Anne’s lace,

stray dill plant and cherry tomato,

staking their respective claims.

My coffee’s lukewarm

before I can pronounce them all fit. 

I walk the same route every morning, 

leisurely deadheading and inspecting 

every day lily in the front yard, 

nearly 40 in all, in a dazzling array 

of reds, yellows, oranges, nodding to 

the older man with earbuds and black knee brace 

who walks the same route every morning.

I visit every flower,

witness the swelling of buds, 

the seductive succession of blossoms 

from one day to the next, 

the incremental growth of every seedling, 

while Molly dreams and dozes.

Coffee drained, plants tended,

I go inside, hungry for blueberries 

and ready to paint.

*          *          *

I get a ship’s deck view of this sprawling main

from my second-story window,

and on the western slope,

a vast pool of red bee balm 

that in recent years has swamped the lawn, 

quadrupling in size, and still growing.

Most days, I spend an hour or two weeding 

in late afternoon, a cleansing act 

and my best thinking time,

compensation for my long, daily walks 

since Molly tore her ACL and cannot run.

Gardening is my yoga. 

I reach, stretch, bend, squat, 

holding my position 

in hard-to-hold poses 

as long as it takes

or my legs cramp; pirouette

so as not to injure the plants.

Hot and humid of late with little rain, most nights

I sail through the gauntlet of new gardens behind the garage

pulling a weed here, picking off a spent bud or two,

and set my anchor by the swimming pool

from early evening to dusk, amid a sea of gardens.

Spectacular in scale,

the largest, L-shaped,

40 feet by 60 feet long

and 10 feet wide, 

its 20-year wildness restrained

by the bulwark of a wooden fence. 

There is half as much again 

on the remaining sides: 

in a new bed moored before a row of hemlocks, 

and along a chain-link fence looking out 

to our neighbor’s small orchard

of fall-bearing raspberries and a few old pears. 

Their huge, well-cared lawn once pastured horses, 

grew enough vegetables to support a farm stand, 

and fruit to make a cellarful of wines. 

I harvest the scene with ancient eyes.

The L-shaped garden comprises

dense blocks of perennials taller than I 

and larger than most gardens,

pretty and exotic as their names: 

rolling waves of golden helianthus; 

redolent pink and white phlox; 

bees blanketing coneflower; and

bee balm, known by more flowery names 

bergamot and monarda,

a member of the mint family,

(you can tell by its square stalk),

a favorite of hummingbirds,

the flavor of Earl Grey.

Cresting overhead, giant stands 

of plume poppy, ironweed, and Solomon’s seal sway, 

and cup flower, whose small yellow flowers 

bob above the eight-foot fence. 

Cucumbers, eggplant, and peppers

lap the silty shores,

and 20 sturdy day lilies for ballast.

*          *          *

The gardens take my breath away, 

yet there are many ways to breathe back in. 

Weeding invigorates the plants 

and compels me to sit among them, 

brushing up against their smooth stalks or notched leaves,

tender blossoms leaving golden traces on my cheeks,

whisperings of sweet, subtle fragrance and bruised greens,

massaging the soil, stirring my hands

in soft, yielding earth

as cardinal and song sparrow 

and another bird that sounds familiar sing.

A distant heron squawks, 

a mourning dove’s wings whistle overhead.

I stretch deep inside this ocean view 

and gently flex my muscles 

as I slowly liberate my favored species.

Watering brings me closer to my plants, and 

a daily dose is mandatory for recent transplants: 

lantana, peach-colored rose, and Jersey tea; 

fragile seedlings; and potted houseplants on the porch.

I, too, thirst for water,

and from the pool’s delicious depths

I see plants from a humble angle: 

the underside, below eye level looking up.

The pool’s reflection, 

still or undulating,

mirrors the gardens,

still or undulating,

doubling or refracting my view. 

*          *          *

Totally different and exactly the same,

I savor each day with a leisurely tour, 

Chardonnay or Sauvignon in hand,

watching a hummingbird hover in mid-air,

a monarch butterfly fluttering by, 

a downy woodpecker clinging to

the tall, upright stalk of a wooly mullein, 

pecking away at bugs of some kind. 

The flowers take on different hues and shapes as the light fades 

during the slow, sensual transition from late day to dusk;

pink blushes red and deep purple as petals wither and shrivel.

Like a flower, I, too, eventually fade (sigh), and go inside.

Hours after sleep has settled in,

Teddy the cat jumps on my chest

and I stumble out to get the paper

in bare feet on the asphalt drive,

flinching from an unseen pebble,

reveling in the silence and early light 

while the coffee percolates.

Aperture 19, Russell Steven Powell oil on canvas, 16x12
Aperture 19, oil on canvas, 16×12

12 Replies to “Letter from Home”

  1. Thank you for thus beautiful description of your garden. Even though it has been about 20 years since I’ve seen it I feel like I can picture it, just a little. Incredible!

    1. Much appreciated, Alison, and I remember well that last visit. Maybe you’ll see it again before we’re old and gray and your children have grown up! I hope you and your beautiful family are well.

    1. Thank you, Diane! I’m glad you were able to visit, and hopefully there will be a return! I appreciate the kind words.

  2. You, indeed, paint a beautiful picture of your gardens. I can visualize the flowers, many of which I have in our yard and beds, and smell their scents through your words. One can get lost in time caring for all these beautiful blooms but it is very rewarding. I

  3. Thank you Russ. I have had the pleasure of watching your gardens grow and take shape and can imagine and share in your joy of color, texture and shape from every vantage point, an every changing kaleidoscope of beauty tended to with your loving hands. Thank you again for inspiring me to see and feel the tiniest bits of life. Thank you too for making this gift for all of us.

    1. Thank you, Jan! You were one of the people I had in mind when I sat down to write this. I’m so glad you enjoyed it!!

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