life in the (bee-loud) forest

When I taught writing classes many years ago, I used Denise Levertov’s poem “Life in the Forest” as an object lesson in the use of commas. It was a poem I loved —

The woman whose hut was mumbled by termites

–it would have to go,

be gone,

not soon, but some day:

she knew it and shrugged —

had friends among the feathers,

quick hearts.

I’ve just been out logging the kale forest, last year’s “trees”.  The garden needs the room for squash and other things, not the least of which is this year’s kale. But when I reached for the thick trunks, all I could hear was bees. The yellow blossoms were alive with them. I carefully pulled up the plants and set them by the compost so the bees could continue to do their work. The industrious bees barely noticed I was there.


The volunteers I transplanted last month have come along nicely


and we’ll barely notice last year’s plants have gone — though the bees will have to find other flowers to sustain them. Luckily the vegetable garden is filled with roses and campanula:


I have three small pots of black Tuscan kale to plant out now, the kind with lovely pebbled leaves and an earthy flavour. I look forward to eating a cultivar I know the name of. What I currently have is mongrel — red Russian, Portuguese, Siberian, and collards have all been cross-pollinated by those bees (or their grandparents) and the offspring grow to such healthy heights that I have a hard time uprooting them to let their own children have a turn. Some resemble the parents. Some are deeply lobed, some ruffled, some streaked with purple, some as grey-green as winter rain.

That poem I taught for its punctuation speaks to me in a different way now, with an urgency I wouldn’t have understood 30 years ago.

The trees

began to come in of themselves, evenings.

The termites labored.

The hut’s green moss of shadows

gave harbor

to those who sheltered her.