Saturday, July 23, 2011

Pure Heat

"We entered our new house like a virus entering its host.
You following me, me following you. However you like. The windows were high and the walls were thick and sturdy. It was hot as blazes. The guts of summer. Always down in the sugar-deep barrel-bottom belly of summer itself. Always. In our shared walk down to the bottom, which bottom we will surely find if only our hearts are brave and our love true enough, we have found that it is somehow invariably and quite permanently summer."
-- from the liner notes to Tallahassee
In mid-July of 2011 New Orleans has packed up its August weather – the blinding swelter, the cruel humidity, the tyrannical sweat-soaked gustless swabbing – and taken it on the road. I don’t know how it is, here in the Blue Ridge foothills, the actors performing an outdoor Twelfth Night made it through without collapsing, without the comic misconstructions turned
suddenly tragic, beloved and belovers falling to the ground one after another as though they had been run through with poisoned swords or bitten by venomous asps, a small swallow of the sweetest wine become a deadly choking obliterating draught.
Everything in my garden, save the tomatoes, is giving up. The eggplant’s leaves have become torn gray lattice, the zucchini’s leaves like the brittle parchment pages of a discarded pamphlet – one extolling, perhaps, the Lord’s bounteous blessings (see James, Chapter 5, Verse 7: Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming  of the Lord. Behold,the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit  of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the  early and latter rain.) The basil is now little more than a silenced cacophony of flapping black tongues, and the limp lamb’s ears lie down with the lime and the loam. It's all become a verdant tomb.
Yes, every breath you take in this heat is a gasp, every move you make a sharp, poultice-less sting (You think I haven’t been watching you?)  But there’s something about this awful heat I like, for I am nothing if not a friend to lethargy, a brother-in-arms to indolence, a lad the closest of kin – and maybe even a twin – to lassitude. Who would dare ask you, ask me, in heat like this, to run an errand, to get done today what’s best put off until tomorrow – which has put me in mind of my favorite Raymond Carver poem, a long-hot-summer-day’s song if there ever was one:
The people who were better than us were comfortable.
They lived in painted houses with flush toilets.
Drove cars whose year and make were recognizable.
The ones worse off were sorry and didn't work.
Their strange cars sat on blocks in dusty yards.
The years go by and everything and everyone
gets replaced. But this much is still true –
I never liked work. My goal was always
to be shiftless. I saw the merit in that.
I liked the idea of sitting in a chair
in front of your house for hours, doing nothing
but wearing a hat and drinking cola.
What's wrong with that?
Drawing on a cigarette from time to time.
Spitting. Making things out of wood with a knife.
Where's the harm there? Now and then calling
the dogs to hunt rabbits. Try it sometime.
Once in a while hailing a fat, blond kid like me
and saying, “Don't I know you?”
Not, “What are you going to be when you grow up?”
And I’ll tell you what, in my own shiftless way, I’m imagining. I’m imagining New Orleans come this August, all of the month’s wretched weather already given away, cast high and low across the country in July like seeds from a woven canvas seed bag that’s now full empty. And all that remains is the cool rustling breeze through the magnolias and along the climbed-smooth branches of the live oak trees, and my feet up on some porch railing, and all the friends I’ve lost to time and distance and to our separate winding paths all gathered now around me, all of them with their feet up on the porch railing, too, and nothing at all that needs saying between us except for one thing, this one thing, like it's a prayer of high and holy gratitude: This weather, my friends. Dear Lord,  yes, indeed, this weather, this weather. It will surely do.

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