Perhaps it’s a poem of the season, yet another “April” poem of the sort so many have written about the famed juncture of “memory” and “desire.” That’s likely how it had to have been read by the editors and readers of RATTLE, where it was originally published some years ago without any further contextualization.
But there’s another facet to the poem as well, one I only sometimes share with audiences at readings. For all its references to nature, “Lines in Late April” began in my awareness that my young sister-in-law — April Tyrrel — was in the final stages of the terminal brain cancer that ended her life at just 35 years of age. It was no more than a week after I received my contributor’s copies of RATTLE that my wife and I were headed to Texas for April’s funeral.
A nature poem or something else, here’s how “Lines in Late April” reads with that added bit of context . . .
Lines In Late April
for April Tyrrel, upon hearing the prognosis
April has been characteristically brief,
coming in on a promise, but somehow
always circling the point.
Taconic streams swollen by the melting mountains
push impatiently against matted leaves and fallen
branches that seem to belong somewhere else.
Nightfall is a gentle rustling on the forest floor
and the piercing laughter of predators that slip through shadows
and edge along the lake where moonlight descends.
One day, April is icy, grasping and resolute.
Another time, the impudent, golden reach of forsythia
arches against the likelihood across gunmetal gray skies.
April ice can slip in unexpectedly with the sinking sun
to swallow tender sprouts like a crusty tumor.
Ice lays waste to fragile shoots on old wood.
In the end, the ice in April is every bit as fragile
as those new buds setting out a plan for summer.
These gnarled bones of birches have lasted another winter.