When I was small, My family planted a row of Aloe vera under our large windows that faced the deep green of native plants in the vacant lot.
They planted eight frost-green stars. Ornamental. Low maintenance. Their saw-edged arms lengthened over time. Our neighbour would often call to ask for some aloe. Her husband's stomach ailed him again. And again. And again. Each time my father would slice a fleshy leaf from the bunch and wrap the oozing end in tinfoil for collection. Gel smeared the knife blade, a lingering scent as cutting as the aloe’s toothed edges. I tasted it once. The bitterness was far too alarming for my childhood palette to tolerate twice. The aloe multiplied from the central largest plant. Under and around it clustered clones. White-spotted leaves peeking from deep red mulch. When I was old enough to carry our garbage out to the street, I passed a lizard, anole, that day as vibrant green as the aloe blade it climbed. Fragile fingers gripped the smooth tough skin heedless of my closeness so early in the cool morning. Its vulnerable tongue, a flash of pink, lapping up dew drops. The aloe grew one branch each. At the top, a cone of flower buds banana-shaped, yellow. They bloomed from the bottom up. Their petals parted coyly to reveal secret tips of stigma, stamen orange with pollen. When I was tall enough to be mistaken for an adult, a hummingbird swept in with a drone. Green-backed, iridescent. Hovered and wavered. Slender beak penetrated a flower for a momentary feast. Then another Then another. Before swirling from sight. That summer, I watch the aloes for hours. Ears pricked to the hummingbird’s buzz. Waiting for another glimpse of wildness at the window.
Aloe plants (Aloe barbadensis miller) truly are wonderful. While many of us may first think of their cosmetic and pharmaceutical uses (which are legion), my fond memories are more intimate and revolve around the things that thrived because of the plants.
I’d toyed with the idea of naming this poem “Ecosystem Services” since that’s essentially what it’s about (even if the ecosystem in question is in a planter). However, after some discussion, I realized that title would break the poem.
I wanted to write an Earth Day poem about a thing to be cherished. Despite my feelings of frustration and powerlessness about various environmental and climate issues, I can still make the choice to talk about the beauty of the natural world and the ways that we can benefit from its gifts.
Happy Earth Day.