April and Eliot

“April is the cruelest month,” famously writes T. S. Eliot in The Wasteland, and cruel it is, with its hints of approaching sun and warmth, but its ever persistent rain. I consider going out to buy plants for the patio, but seeing the gray, windy day I retreat instead to a book. Maybe tomorrow, I say. But tomorrow never comes. The rain hasn’t stopped since forever and the temperatures never get above 60, but apparently spring is here. I remain skeptical but optimistic.

This is our tenth month in Portland and—perhaps helped by the weather’s constancy—we have settled into a routine, finally. It is not especially productive but it works and it gets us through the days without mishap. Routine, even boredom is welcome, for the world outside our safe haven seems to have taken leave of its senses. Change coupled with surprise is the order of day, and how anyone can have faith in our leaders and their constantly conflicted/conflicting ideas is beyond me. I may have given up anger, but astonishment never departs. 

Today, however, I am optimistic. A groundswell of organizing, resistance, and voting participation has brought a very red district in a very red state very close to being taken by a Democrat—an unknown Democrat who had only 60 days to develop a campaign against the Republican establishment in the heart of Koch brothers territory. April certainly is the cruelest month, but this one may have sown the seeds of a much happier future.



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While I’m onto Eliot, here is the first stanza of another favorite, The Hollow Men, written in 1925. It is, I think, perfection, and its lines, while not perfectly descriptive of our current leaders are perfectly descriptive of their ineffectual rule.

     We are the hollow men
     We are the stuffed men
     Leaning together
     Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
     Our dried voices, when
     We whisper together
     Are quiet and meaningless
     As wind in dry grass
     Or rat's feet over broken glass
     In our dry cellar

               Shape without form, shade without color,
     Paralyzed force, gesture without motion;

Eliot wrote this a few years after the end of World War I, after the settled world of European empire had been transformed by chaos into an still-undefinable future. The poem always elicits a feeling of desolation in me and is best read on a sunny day with a good glass of merlot at your side.