At least since Chaucer, English-language poets have heralded the coming of spring and the vanquishing of winter: “Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote / the droghte of March hath perced to the roote…” “April Poem” by Daniel Bowman, Jr. continues this tradition of praising the new season’s renewal while alluding to the aridity and decline that preceded it. Bowman, who teaches at Taylor University in Upland, grew up in the Mohawk River valley of upstate New York, where this poem is set.
His poem begins tersely, more T.S. Eliot than Chaucer: “Every year about this time / I bury my mother’s bones.” Death anniversaries have a way of recurring each year in our memories. But from this premise, the poem unfolds into a meditation on how the mother’s bones—and by extension, her death and life—keep transforming throughout the year, first into lilacs, then smoke and poison ivy, and finally, dead leaves and snow.
Former U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan once remarked, “Poetry is for desperate occasions.” It helps us bear what we are given to suffer. But poetry is also for all the long stretches of ordinary time after desolation, and Dan Bowman’s poem speaks to this ongoing meaning-making and renewal.
April Poem Every year about this time I bury my mother’s bones. And in May they spring up as lilacs and in June they float softly on the Irondequoit Creek and in July they march down Columbia Street and end with smoke. In August they become Poison Ivy creeping along the trail where I walk with my daughter. Soon they’ll be hidden under dead leaves and snow. The thaw will have its say again next year and I’ll reach for the shovel, happy for moonlight and a grasshopper’s song.
This poem originally appeared in Bowman’s A Plum Tree in Leatherstocking Country (Chicago: Virtual Artists Collective, 2012).