April is the Cruelest Month

"Primavera" Eugenio Gignous 

"April is the cruelest month . . . "

writes the poet. That line has confused me for years. Is it cruel? April is the springiest month, when elementary school teachers paste tulips and yellow galoshes to bulletin boards, and little old ladies dress up for church looking like pastel Easter eggs.

But the gardener understands the cruelty of April. The derivation of the word April can be traced as far back as Varro, where the etymology, omnia aperit, literally "it opens everything" may be a reference to the opening of flowers and trees. I have been thinking about openings lately as I contemplate the seeds growing in every window sill. Annuals, perennials, vegetables, and shrubs splay across every surface of my house. Today I ate my cereal with a tray of zinnias and three naranjillas. For the last few weeks I have been a witness to the openings of seeds. Birth is an act of violence. These dry brown seeds burst into life, ripping off their skins, splitting cotyledons, thrusting root into ground and stem to sky. Sometimes I lean in, expecting to hear the cries and wails of these infants. We enter this world in an act of violence, as if to test our mettle and prove our worthiness to cross the threshold.


April is the most lavish month . . .

"Frühling in Worpswede" Hans am Ende, 1900
March left us with mulch and daffodils. April starts with mostly bare ground and the few cherished heralds of spring, but ends cloaked in a gaudy quilt of greens. Chartreuse, viridian, lime, olive, jade, and celadon foam and froth across the ground. The poverty of March yields the extravagance of April.

Even the old, dying maple next to the church parsonage has engaged in a fit of fecundity. The tree blasts an armada of twirling, papery helicopters into the parsonage garden. A mini forest of maples has erupted in the garden, making it difficult for me to tell my annual seedlings from the young trees. They say plants approaching death often go to flower, a last effort at immortality. I look to the knobby old tree and then to his sea of babies. I'm not sure I have the heart to weed them.


April is the maddest month . . .

February stirred in me a restlessness to get outside and start digging in the dirt; by April, I am consumed with a howling lunacy. For weeks, the only planterly life I've seen are the seedlings in my window sill. Now April spews life in every form, across every surface. The eye has no place to rest. I move around the garden like an ant, delirious and distraught by the riotous explosion of leaf and limb.

April is the month for madness. We mark the first of April by acting like fools. In France, the "days of April" (journees d'avril) refers to a series of violent insurrections against the government in 1834. In England, they mark St. Mark's Eve (April 24) by sitting on the church porch to watch the ghosts of those who will die this year pass.

This month I am a fool, a rioter, a ghost. I enter into the garden and find not asylum, but bedlam; not harmony, but cacophony. The desperation of winter has blossomed into the desire of spring, and I pass the murderous tulips with a suspicious eye.


Originally published, April 2010
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