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Dawn Potter: Heat Wave

The sound of box fans in a house without air conditioning

is the memory of clean wet hair, of a red pleated skirt floating

in a slim wind, of cotton sheets smelling of bird song,

but the day is a cast-iron pan, steam licking from its cocked lid.

In the maples the cicadas rattle: first, a crescendo stutter, a pause, and then

they start all over again, like bored children practicing finger runs on the violin.

I never see them. In my life they are noise, only noise; in their

lives I am nothing at all. But not even the whirring fans can dampen

their ardor, not the stinking garbage trucks banging alongside the curbs,

not gunshots or car crashes or Metallica. Sunlight, earth’s moody beloved,

glowers through the humid haze; somewhere, nearby, the sea flickers and chops

against a blurred horizon; the insects insist and sigh, insist and sigh, and I

don’t know what to do with myself, don’t know how to fidget the hours

till nightfall, don’t know how to conquer my restless clammy body.

Even the paperbacks quarrel with me, their covers curling in protest.

I stick to my vinyl chair, staring from my dim study window down into the weary

flowerbeds, for some reason imagining myself as a buzz-cut Rapunzel, trapped

in my torrid keep while the prince wanders off to a movie or a bowling lane.

Comedy is the last refuge of the hot but, truly, all I want to do is write angry poems

about disappointment—mine, yours, anyone’s—and every one of them I make is terrible.

Unkindness doesn’t track well in art; we’re supposed to be the empathetic ones,

observing the world from all sides, perched in our word-webs like big friendly spiders,

even if what we really feel is Bitterness. A crude burst, ugly as a splayed foot, a sudden,

gut-shot hatred of our dreams: oh, why did we believe we had a chance? And then,

in the same instant, shame, that we should be so green and unforgiving, puncturing

our own spleen; remembering that once, somewhere, we’d read a tabloid tale

about the day when Richard Wilbur won a big award and John Berryman sent him

a terrible letter, maybe the story isn’t even true, but we think it is, because we recognize

why Berryman couldn’t help himself, we despise ourselves for knowing why.

Though we’ve become indifferent, too—hope clogged like a drain, hardening into

a nothing-matters crust; as if caring too much was our crime and now, finally,

we can shrug, can pretend that what we always wanted was to be left alone.

You can see why the heat is getting me down.

These are the poems that nobody wants to read—graffiti-screeds of self-pitying schlock,

when I should be channeling the noble indifference of The Poet, framed in winter firelight,

poring over an ancient translation of Homer as The Helpmeet fries chops at the stove.

It’s the conundrum of my life: how to embody The Poet and The Helpmeet at the same

but how is such an act even plausible? She loved children and cats and spent her waning years

researching the history of laundry. Comedy: last refuge of the disheartened.

Ah, well. I stare out my window into late-summer shade, thinning and yellowed.

From the shed roof a squirrel is hurling insults, and beneath his screeches the cicadas

insist and sigh, insist and sigh, unmoved by his grandiloquent snit.

I imagine writing an entire collection about bad behavior—not extravagant bad behavior

like stealing Picassos or having sex with a daughter-in-law, but the everyday sort:

petty jealousies, and princess eye rolling, and household cold shoulders,

little ires The Poet can ignore, but they keep smacking The Helpmeet upside the head,

mostly when she’s on her knees trying to figure out why the kitchen sink is leaking.

The puddle of water feels good, though, in its own way, when the weather’s like this.

Copyright 2021 Dawn Potter.

Dawn Potter’s many books include Chestnut Ridge (Deerbrook, 2019). She directs the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching, held each summer at Robert Frost’s home in Franconia, New Hampshire. 


8 comments on “Dawn Potter: Heat Wave

  1. Rick Kunz
    October 15, 2021

    Hi Dawn,
    The more I read this poem, the more I like it. Like turning a crystal in the sunshine, your imagery shifts as each glance comes at a slightly different angle. I know you insist on the fictional nature of your poetry, but it has the feel of reality — in this case a reality which exudes a desperate weariness captured so brilliantly — a testament to your talent. It is your ability which prompted my suggestion that you should address some of the fundamental problems we have dumped in the lap of the next generation.
    By way of illustration: a while back I wrote a little ditty I called, “That Smartphone Song”. The first verse and chorus are as follows:
    Got my head in the cloud/My mind in reverse
    No need to remember/no need to rehearse
    Everything that I need’s/right here in my hand
    And the smarter my phone/the dumber I am

    The smarter my phone/ the dumber I am
    Things that I could/I no longer can
    So take my advice/just dump the device
    ‘Cause the smarter my phone/ the dumber I am
    Needless to say, I got quite a reaction from my grandchildren for attacking a central element of their existence; one they cannot imagine living without. However, I recently drove one grandson out to western New York. This gave us about three hours together to discuss many things. In the course of that time, he brought up his reaction to the song. He admitted it had caused him to think about his reliance on the device and that he had consciously curtailed its usage. Beyond that, it had opened his mind to the whole concept of technology and its pervasive influence on his life.
    In his comments I could see the germination of a new level of consciousness, a new level of critical thought and a breaking of the bonds of conformity which social media clamps down upon those lured by its charms. Technology’s allure is its ability to make things seem easier. But this is a faux freedom. Minds are googled into mush and filled with unobtainable images causing despair, feelings of inadequacy, leaving us questioning all purpose and meaning.
    You are an artist. Art is essential to restoring humanness to our society. It can reach the soul in ways technology can never touch (think a lush rain forest versus a pristine desert). As with my little song, it can puncture the illusion which the virtual world of technology has constructed, reasserting a value system that defines the difference between a house and a home, making it possible to prize a shack over a mansion.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mary Elbert
    September 13, 2021

    I love the “earth’s moody beloved,” the “buzz-cut Rapunzel,” and the squirrel’s “grandiloquent snit.” You make magic, my friend. My senior citizen writers are loving your PA memoir. We worked on your sentence with the “where” phrases and clauses and the disgusting description of your Eden/paradise last week.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dawn Potter
      September 14, 2021

      Mary, are you talking about the Milton memoir? Or the Western Pennsylvania poem collection? In either case: I’d be glad to do a zoom with your writers. Just be in touch!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Barbara Huntington
    September 13, 2021

    Beautifully written, yet stell reminds me of the many poems I pen that never see a submission

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Rose Mary Boehm
    September 13, 2021

    I am there with you, hot and clammy. ” never see them. In my life they are noise, only noise; in their lives I am nothing at all.”

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on September 13, 2021 by in Humor and Satire, Poetry and tagged , , , , , , .

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