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?