photo by Lauren Rushing
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
—The Wasteland, T. S. Eliot
It’s never just the sun, rising in an azure sky with birth-like promises. Never just the lilacs, breeding from a forgetful land that pretends it never knew what it is to die. Never just the spring rain, drenching the hopeful world with newborn showers.
It’s never just. Anything. Always something more. Or less.
It is cruel, dull, dead, this spring for me. This April, my daughter’s birth month. The cruelest month.
They named me Mrittika. My poet father, upon the urging of his sister, gave me a "meaningful" name when I was ten. My aunt thought that Gypsy – my formal name until then – was too informal, and would never be taken seriously when I grew up. So, at ten, I went from being a traveler to one grounded to her roots.
Mrittika. Soil, Earth, Mother Earth. In Sanskrit, the ancient language of undivided India, the language of the sages, the yogis, the evolved. As Mrittika I grew up into a young woman, found my foothold, my place, defined, refined, redefined. I lost it, found it, and lost it again. Lost it more, lost it high in intellect, lost it sure, lost it deep in love. Then as Mrittika, I plunged into my soul to plant the saplings I could spring from my core. I found him, then her, in that depth.
It was spring. After a ruthless, brutal, toiling winter, trees were blooming. The bulbs colored as my belly swelled. Then on a spring dawn, alone in bed, the ocean surged in me. My little explorer Raahi, who moved like the waves inside me, washed me ashore. I was alone with her big brother that morning, waiting for her father to come home in the evening from a distant city, when she decided to take me on a voyage with her. The voyage of her birth. Of the explorer landing on earth. Reaching her, and my, destination. I was alone when I drove my three-year-old to pre-school and drove myself – five hours into labor – to the hospital. I felt the ocean in me. I felt the earth in me. I was the earth.
I was Mrittika again. Soil, Earth, Mother Earth, baring my heart, bearing my flower in spring. She sprung from my womb, pink and full of life. She sprung out, like a fountain throwing life high into the skies, sprinkling life far and wide, from the depths of the roots I thought my fears had dug. She sprung out, her arms stretched at the sun, her face glowing at me, her mother, her earth. I became Mrittika again. Mother Earth in spring.
Then she died. In the heat of summer, on a night that thunder roared, she withered, and quietly drooped into an everlasting sleep. The nurse at the ER scooped me from the floor, now a pile of useless dirt, slipping through her gloved fingers like quicksand. She looked down at those uncontrollable trickles, and said that my little flower has now entered my heart. There, she said, she will live from now on, growing roots into her permanent home. Permanent? Home?! I asked her, “She’s really dead? She’s really dead? She’s in my heart? Where in my heart? Where is my heart?” In that heart I lost that summer, Raahi would now apparently reside. It was not a place she would spring from, bloom in, flutter, toddle, walk, run to, from, in, around. It was where she would, as they say, rest in peace. A baby. Resting. In peace. Just the irony of those words could shake and shatter the earth into rubble. And it did.
She had a white box, and a dress, all too big, blue with white flowers, and a lime green border. It had been our favorite summer dress for her. She had white tights, versatile and useful in summer, that I had carefully chosen for many of her colorful dresses. She had my wedding ring, the one with the infinite union on it. She had two blades of grass, from her birthplace, still green after four days in a car. She had my life, the love her father and I shared, the beauty and wonder of our firstborn, her big brother. She had our hearts. She had it all. In nothing.
They sent her down, down into the earth's womb. The earth, Mother Earth, her breast bared, her arms stretched, knots of twisted roots covering her head, her eyes looking into the horizon, into my dead eyes, took in my baby.
I became Mrittika again. Soil, the Ground, the Earth. Mother Earth, in whose hollow heart a baby's broken shell now lies in a white box. I am Mrittika now. More than I ever was. A bare, barren earth, even, especially, in spring.
I became meaningful. As I became meaningless.
Now the trees are alive again. There is once more the green of life. The leaves are back.
The colors of life are spreading far and wide, the music of the fresh wafting in the air. Again, once again, here, everywhere, the voice of the new, the words told a million times, and yet whispered for the first time, every spring. New. New. New. Alive. Alive. A-l-i-v-e. The land, young again, swaying, laughing, like a newborn. The sun is warm, golden, newly washed. The earth is rejoicing in its birth, in the circle of life. The dance of life continues in circles around me.
It was not like this, you know. Soon after she died, the trees died too. One by one, they shed their leaves, their flowers curled up, their shadows grew longer. The soil dried up, the sun mellowed, the air grew languid and heavy. The earth seemed to reach a breaking point. As if it grieved, as if it sunk to the hole in me. Tired, rusted, broken, it sat in it with me for a while.
Then it rose up, and covered itself in a white shroud. White, the color of death, when it has devoured all colors of life. The trees stood still, like ancient souls, in submission, in resignation, as if there will be no tomorrow. The sun gleamed a cold light, the earth filled with snow. The sky lightened, the air sharpened. The earth was peaceful, empty, white. As if it grieved, as if it showed the emptiness in my heart to all, when I could not.
It is spring again. Three relentless years of spring. It never stops. It a-l-w-a-y-s comes back, like a stubborn plague poisoning my blood, unsure if it accidentally spared some drops the last time. The same spring, proclaiming, pretending, to be freshly squeezed and new every year.
Life is back on earth. My baby is not back. She was born in spring, three years ago. She is still dead in this one. She came to me with the return of life, her newness filling my soul, her birth giving me, her mother, her earth, my last, only, meaning. As life is returned to this earth, she is not returned to me. I become Demeter, calling after my Persephone. I become the wasteland, breeding lilacs from the dead ground, trying to mix my few memories with a lifetime of desire.
Nothing brings her back. The mythical daughter returns to her goddess mother, if only for a few months. The human one doesn’t. New poets write new lines celebrating, bemoaning, cursing, championing, spring. I feel the same sting on my face, like a million tiny daggers digging a million holes into the earth’s broken surface, from which nothing springs.
Life continues. Despite death. Death continues. Despite life.
What makes you sad and/or angry in spring? What do you not like to do? Do you identify with it in any way? Or not?