The heat this past week was no joke. It wasn’t the sticky neck or blurry glasses stuff of most mid-summers. Iced tea on the back screen porch was no remedy. Or a fan in a darkened bedroom. This was a mean heat, an in-your-face heat, and its brutish intensity just kept coming. It’s gone now, but it’s the kind of bully that will circle back, pumped up and eager for another round. It made me think of this poem by the late Denis Johnson, an award-winning and highly acclaimed novelist (Fiskadoro, Tree of Smoke, Jesus’ Son) who was also a disturbingly powerful poet. To give you a preview of his tone, he once said “my ear for the diction and rhythms of poetry was trained by—in chronological order—Dr. Seuss, Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman, the guitar solos of Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, and T.S. Eliot. Other influences come and go, but those I admire the most and those I admired the earliest (I still admire them) have something to say in every line I write.”
By Denis Johnson
Here in the electric dusk your naked lover
tips the glass high and the ice cubes fall against her teeth.
It’s beautiful Susan, her hair sticky with gin,
Our Lady of Wet Glass-Rings on the Album Cover,
streaming with hatred in the heat
as the record falls and the snake-band chords begin
to break like terrible news from the Rolling Stones,
and such a last light—full of spheres and zones.
you’re just an erotic hallucination,
just so much feverishly produced kazoo music,
are you serious?—this large oven impersonating night,
this exhaustion mutilated to resemble passion,
the bogus moon of tenderness and magic
you hold out to each prisoner like a cup of light?
Wow, what a good and powerful poem. Thanks for it. I live in Maine but our summers are even too hot for me now (I grew up in southern CT and recall many humid summers there). It gets harder the older I get (age 75 now) and I hate it for my two old cats, one diabetic. No AC. I am not a heat lover…never. I love Autumn and I find a lot of beauty in winter too. I would never be a “snow bird”!
Thanks for this interesting poem. It spoke to me quite a bit.
Thanks, Cheryl. I hope you and your cats are surviving this latest heat wave okay. I have an elderly grey tiger who’s spending all his time trying to catch a breeze on the windowsill.
Wonderful poem. On first reading I noticed the odd turns in rhythm and diction. On second reading, I’m struck by the amount of images packed in this short poem. Makes me want to read some more of his work. Thank-you!
You’re welcome, Roger. He had a tough, interesting life, too.
Liza, I love everything about this, your set-up and introduction to the poet and his poem—all spot-on. I’m startled each time I read the comparison of the breaking record to “terrible news from The Rolling Stones.” Thank you. It’s a bit of a relief to know we are not suffering this heat alone.
So nice to hear from you, Susan. The heat’s b-a-a-a-c-k here. Whew.
I love Denis Johnson! Thank you for sharing this wonderful poem. xoxo
Thank you, Eileen!
I love Denis Johnson’s fiction and am grateful to be reminded of his poetry.
I think it was you who turned me on to Denis Johnson years ago, Patty.