Back in the hot lowlands after a week in the mountains, UD spent today inside writing. At one point in the late afternoon she put on the broad-brimmed hat she got in Savannah, plus shades and bug spray, and watered her front garden. Really soaked it. Stood in the scorch and drenched every blade.

Here’s a poem about heat. It’s by D.A. Powell, a UD favorite. We’ve seen him on this blog before.

*************************

    cruel, cruel summer

either the postagestamp-bright inflorescence of wild mustard
or the drab tassel of prairie smoke, waving its dirty garments

either the low breeze through the cracked window
or houseflies and drawn blinds to spare us the calid sun

one day commands the next to lie down, to scatter: we’re done
with allegiance, devotion, the malicious idea of what’s eternal

picture the terrain sunk, return of the inland sea, your spectacle
your metaphor, the scope of this twiggy dominion pulled under

crest and crest, wave and cloud, the thunder blast and burst of swells
this is the sum of us: brief sneezeweed, brief yellow blaze put out

so little, your departure, one plunk upon the earth’s surface,
one drop to bind the dust, a little mud, a field of mud

the swale gradually submerged, gradually forgotten
and that is all that is to be borne of your empirical trope:

first, a congregated light, the brilliance of a meadowland in bloom
and then the image must fail, as we must fail, as we

graceless creatures that we are, unmake and befoul our beds
don’t tell me deluge. don’t tell me heat, too damned much heat

*********************************

I find Powell’s mix of out-there, messy, visceral emotion — here, for instance, he does nothing to hide the fact that he’s extremely bitter — with a sophisticated, polished, controlled poetic style, exciting. I’ve never seen anything quite like this particular clash. I really like it. Look:

either the postagestamp-bright inflorescence of wild mustard
or the drab tassel of prairie smoke, waving its dirty garments

either the low breeze through the cracked window
or houseflies and drawn blinds to spare us the calid sun

The first two stanzas give you alternatives – either this or that – but all four images on offer are pretty much the same thing: a hot, horrible, dessicated world. Stuck inside my house, blinds drawn against the heat, I can look at this or that, but existence has shrunk to a dry, small, low, drab, and dirty interior.

Calid is such a weird, rare word; its edgy enigmatic feel somehow contributes to the sense we get throughout the poem that the universe has nothing to do with miniscule unimportant us, that we’re small dry trivial plantlife…

one day commands the next to lie down, to scatter: we’re done
with allegiance, devotion, the malicious idea of what’s eternal

There’s nothing to want in these unlivable desert days. Instead of vibrant continuity from one day to the next, we get a sense that even nature knows how untenable it’s become. Nature commits a kind of diurnal suicide, telling each lurid summer afternoon to vanish, lie down, scatter.

We take nothing from these days – no memories, no experiences, only a conviction that we were wrong to love the earth, to feel part of it. We were wrong to assume we would be in a living world forever.

picture the terrain sunk, return of the inland sea, your spectacle
your metaphor, the scope of this twiggy dominion pulled under

crest and crest, wave and cloud, the thunder blast and burst of swells
this is the sum of us: brief sneezeweed, brief yellow blaze put out

Our arid land was once a vast inland sea, and we can picture that. We can at least generate the sort of refreshment that a metaphor represents… Yet all we’ve really generated with this particular picture is a bitter graphic representation of our thin dry twiggy lives, lives easily, promptly, to be pulled under by those deathwaves.

Yes, this is the sum of us. It’s all we are. “Sneezeweed flowers in late summer or fall. The common name is based on the former use of its dried leaves in making snuff, inhaled to cause sneezing that would supposedly rid the body of evil spirits.” We breathe for a few moments in a weedy world and then get snuffed out. Each of us is a small fire, soon extinguished.

Summer is cruel because it makes all of this visible; it makes us see the paltriness of our being, and the morbid reality of our fate. Next to the stark objectivity of the summer world, our metaphors, which try to dress up the world, make it beautiful and meaningful, give it the eternality of art, are really pathetic.

so little, your departure, one plunk upon the earth’s surface,
one drop to bind the dust, a little mud, a field of mud

the swale gradually submerged, gradually forgotten
and that is all that is to be borne of your empirical trope:

Each death, then — yours, for instance, my metaphor-generating friend — is a miniscule event, a raindrop that merely gives the dust of the world a bit more consistency… And then the poet drifts into an image of his friend’s grave, a small indentation in the earth, a swale, though even this, his grave, is “gradually forgotten.”

So much for the grand empirical fact of your having been here. You’re just one more trope, one more tired theme, one more poetic voice trying with various tricks of the tongue to make yourself and the earth come to life.

first, a congregated light, the brilliance of a meadowland in bloom
and then the image must fail, as we must fail, as we

graceless creatures that we are, unmake and befoul our beds
don’t tell me deluge. don’t tell me heat, too damned much heat

Specifically, your trope is the trope of every life: the organizing of the disparate parts of a personality into a self (a congregated light), blazing youth (a meadowland in bloom), and then the failure of that image, the failure of that self to sustain itself. We’re both awkward animals at odds with the earth (we unmake and befoul our beds), and we’re graceless also in the sense that we won’t be granted any transcendence of this dirty dry globe.

So really – and now the poet goes from bitterness to anger – really, don’t give out with any more of that metaphor-shit. Earth as a deluge, blah blah… What’s the point of imagining it as being anything other than what it is? No more tired, consoling tropes! You see where the flood trope takes you in any case. And no more whining about the heat. As if, when it breaks, things will be any different.

Trackback URL for this post:
https://www.margaretsoltan.com/wp-trackback.php?p=24034

One Response to “A Poem for 95 Degree Heat”

  1. University Diaries » Totally Fucked Post-Romanticism… Says:

    […] category for the terrific poetry of D.A. Powell. (Read earlier UD takes on Powell here and here.) UD and her friend D (also a poet) are excited that Powell has won this year’s National Book […]

Comment on this Entry

Latest UD posts at IHE

Archives

Categories