Poems for the Cruelest Month
The cherry trees dotting my neighborhood, the luminous specimens in Central Park, the blossom-bearers on campus, all are in gob-smacking extravagant bloom. Impossible spires exploding with white, pink and purple petals reach towards Disney-blue sky and I can hardly stand it. The wild cherry outside my kitchen window is going easy on me, the buds have been swelling day by day, little leaflets are beginning to emerge, and I know one morning I’ll yawn into the room and be undone by beauty, but not today.
If the heart isn’t as swollen with joy as the bursting tree buds, how to handle this extravagant seasonal plant metamorphosis? What if the sight of flowers makes something inside you hurt a little bit? Maybe you lost someone last season, maybe a dream you were dreaming didn’t make it through the night, perhaps some darling bloom-hope met a death blow this winter. How then will you reckon with the rending beauty of spring?
Ah, but you’re not alone. Says Eliot—
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Grievances against this canon-poet notwithstanding, I say cruel indeed. When the weight of war and grief collide with Easter bunnies and daffodils, how is one to make sense of it? For some, there will be no resurrection. How to hold delight and sorrow at once, how to say yes to picnics in meadows with friends while you’re still dreaming of the dead—these are questions of the season.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love it, if I pretended to be some kind of spring Scrooge, if I said I didn’t find myself accidentally grinning for no reason other than the alchemy of light and heat that makes the buds explode into blossoms. But the drenching rains and the hail we had the other day, those mornings that are still chilly enough for warm socks and hot tea, I welcome them.
April is national poetry month, and although the American Academy of Poets explains their choice rather vaguely as “the best time within the year to turn attention toward the art of poetry” I have to admit that it feels right to me. All of the intensity and unpredictability of this season, the surges of hope and terror, the stirring of memory and desire—word images, symbols and sounds arranged in rhythm, engaged in elegy and mystery may be our best bet for helping us hold it all.
Did you know that from time-to-time KtB publishes poetry? For the remainder of the month, in our own free verse rhythm, we’re going to share some poems with you. We’re publishing new work by poets we love as well as featuring poems from our archives. We hope you enjoy.
Francesca Hyatt is an assistant editor at Killing the Buddha and the author of Forestwish (Ghostbird Press 2022). She teaches undergraduate writing courses at Queens College, CUNY where she also received an MFA in Creative Writing and Literary Translation. Learn more at www.francescahyatt.com or follow her on Instagram @francescavhyatt.