Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Workshop: Hot Hot Heat

I'm not talking about the peppy indie band from Canada, folks. I just got back from the high desert winds and 100+ degree days of Vegas, expecting cool delta breezes, but guess what -- it's hot. I'm supposed to be mowing the lawn right now. I should probably be staking my Early Girl tomatoes before they go wild. And I definitely need to clean out my car. But all that is put on hold -- instead, I'm sitting in my lovely air-conditioned house, listening to those aforementioned Canadian popsters and thinking about this absolutely perfect poem by HD:


O wind, rend open the heat,
Cut apart the heat,
Rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
Through this thick air --
Fruit cannot fall into heat
That presses up and blunts
The points of pears
And rounds the grapes.

Cut the heat --
Plough through it,
Turning it on either side
Of your path.

Heat, like snow and wind, often shows up in poetry, usually in its most extreme forms. You know, those days when you are virtually paralyzed by it, when any movement, even the stretching of a hand towards a sweating glass of water, sets the heart thumping or the body boiling. And we are forced in these moments, when any outward action is too much trouble, to reflect inward. What better incubator for a poem?

Here's one I wrote the last summer I lived in Phoenix:

Ninth Street Solstice
originally published in the now-defunct West Goes South

Flowers twist into themselves,
thin fists, close to dying. Here, the heat
is an animal that raises its head
under your skin, heaves longingly,
when you hear water—the fiss
of sprinklers turning on at dusk,
a fountain gulping out its thirst
behind a fence—when you hear water
but haven't yet reached it. Lights
go on behind blinds, behind curtains,
behind an old Snoopy sheet stretched across
a child's window. Yards are dark,
small places between abandoned tools,
the drained pool, its white and blue tiles.
Someone's dinner is burning. A phone rings.
Legs move purposefully below the blinds.
Here everything is shoulder-height—
an arc of sprinkler silvering the grass,
a dead bird darkening, the sun
falling behind cinder block, baking
itself into my chest. A pickup
ticks warmly in the stained driveway,
breathing, at last, at last, at last.

Of course the heat here is a different animal than HD's unbearable humidity. It withers rather than blunts -- and anyone who lives in Phoenix knows what that withering feels like. Now that I'm back home, so close to the river, I definitely feel more blunted, and think it's time to write about a new type of heat. So the workshop challenge for all of us is to evoke our own intimate knowledge of heat, whatever form it takes -- dry or wet, mild or blistering, human or animal or supernatural.


Donna Cappello said...

Nice, Katie. Evokes some of my childhood memories in central Phx.

Jennyvi Dizon said...

Hehehe, you peaked my interest with Hot, Hot, Heat the indie band. "Oh no, she's not a secret now, but nobody cares" from their song "Oh no, not now" : )