An Ode to Sweet April

E on DC

What should a poet do in April? Walk around the city with a poem in the pocket? Wait, like Walt Whitman, to catch a glimpse of the President?

Ponder the blues on the P Street Bridge like Langston Hughes? Now and then I have the urge to walk over to the garden outside the OAS building in that Foggy Bottom part of town and stare at the bust of Pablo Neruda. This sculpture by Galvarino Ponce was placed there on November 21, 1980. I fell in love with Neruda around the time I was coming of age as a poet. Yes, it was a time when my youth knew despair and her many names. Neruda opened the door to Chile and soon names like Pinochet, Letelier, and Dorfman opened windows from which I began to learn about the politics of democracy and the human rights of fractured bones and missing children. 

When April arrives each year it becomes a time of remembrance. If poetry does nothing else it encourages us to pay attention to every word and line written or spoken. Even when a poem appears complex in structure or meaning it might also offer clarity and insight into some aspect of the human condition. It only requires patience. 

April was designated National Poetry Month by the Academy of American Poets in 1996. It’s a way of showing an appreciation for poetry and a chance to highlight it at home or in the office. We can also enjoy poetry at the various entrances to Metro stations around the city. DC Poet Laureate Dolores Kendrick’s work can be found at the New York Avenue station. Walt Whitman’s words are at the National Archives as well as DuPont Circle. My own poetry is outside DuPont Circle (Q Street) as well as the Petworth Metro station. 

How many of us stop and take a moment to read this public art?

What does a poem do to you that the wind or sun can’t? Does it matter? I think it does. Words we find in stone, we must now touch our flesh against. This simple act reminds us what it means to be human. It’s why I think about Neruda’s head across town. Where is the rest of him? Where are Neruda’s arms and legs? What did he make love with? These questions are like the days of April; each one pregnant with meaning and possibilities.

Only a few of my poems have been written about the streets of Washington. Does this mean my imagination resides somewhere else? What do poets see when they look at this city? Is it the picture of democracy and experimentation? How do we hold fast to images of dreams while our monuments continue to dwarf us? 

April is the month Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., died. He was very much the preacher, prophet, and poet. Where there was for too long the ruins from the riots of 1968, there are now new streets and stores. It’s time to keep a new American Journal. Poets, open your notebooks! Parents and teachers, remind us that we are the children of Whitman – whisper “sweet April” into our ears.

The Depth of My Feelings

Love is about forgiveness –
so I forgive you for being you – for being
beautiful and wonderful (all over) and laughing
and giving birth to poems – for being a friend
that makes me howl whenever I dream
about your nakedness – which is so often
I no longer have words for love – only tears.
Yes, crying is the river I walk near when I
think of you.
—E. Ethelbert Miller


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