The summer solstice is still within counting striking distance, but both the dice and the mice have given up. There’s no point in trying for a cool pair of eights. Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was published in 1937, set at the height of the Great Depression and at a time when tensions were tight. The work explores persistent themes of loneliness and isolation. However, nothing compares, I believe, to the pressures of mercury on repeat. At a time when every man, woman, and living thing is left alone with no guarantees, the work’s primary characters choose to unite. Responsibility for survival is much more palatable as a collective endeavor. Now, amidst greatness of curious and questionable kinds (wars waged in digital spheres as heartily as on the soil of multiple continents) heat presses on, and the temperatures constantly soar. Even the ocean water is no longer refreshing. The devil is decidedly hot, even seething. Last week a thermometer broke first in Texas and next in Phoenix. The red liquid inside exceeded all existing limits. Further North, Vermont remains underwater, and once-in-a-lifetime storms demonstrate characteristics more appropriate for survivalists and stagehands. Despite what Hamilton might suggest, not all forms of persistence and lively encores satisfy. Inhale, exhale, seek reprieve. The air we breathe remains heavy with humidity and warning. “Go ahead, roll,” I say to no one in particular as I clutch then consume a coveted six-sided ice cube. Everyone is either too hot to listen or too over-heated to care about conditioning. Even skin that glistens eventually adopts a sour smell. Somewhere, latitude and longitude unclear due to smoke from uninvited Canadian wildfires over two thousand miles north (the instinct to flee danger a common denominator), a choir strikes a distinctly bold chord, especially at the stroke of dawn come Sunday. Too bad no one showed up because the air conditioning went missing. Survival instincts on two feet. Summer tourism and sorcery can’t be beaten. Beaches lined with sand dunes. Hawks circling blood moons. My feet sink. I think I’m melting. I wait until evening to walk but even then, the scent of scorched rubber is grating. At night, I wave to Pluto in the night sky and a frog croaks. All of us are, and remain, overheated. A firefly hovers, happily as far as I can tell, on the sidewalk in front of me. Each of us remains impressively still on opposite sides of a puddle that is quickly evaporating. “Go ahead, drink,” I say as the firefly winks. A beetle joins the extended party. Steinbeck would be pleased. Perhaps I’ll read tonight if my mind remains clear enough to think. The heat plays games with rules not yet written. I don’t know when the neighborhood turned. Gentrification, record-seeking, and regeneration are surprisingly uniform in their predictability. The phoenix in bird form proclaims immortality, capable of rebirth and cyclical regeneration. Amidst sunsets and new dawns, the phoenix rises, relentlessly, from the ashes of those that precede it. Somehow when I wasn’t looking the desert moved in. The implications of slowly encroaching gentrification have always been concerning. I fear I’ve taken too quickly to hallucinating. To my right, a fox waits for something. A trio of deer seek sustenance in liquid form. A tiny mouse anticipates nothing. The greater the chase, the deeper the pain; it’s too bad that desserts of icebox treats, strawberry shortcakes, and chocolate eclairs had already melted on a nearby driveway. A party must have broken up early, I think, then wonder, more realistically, if it’s the Earth’s way of pleading for mercy. Something, surely, will come of the dice’s plastic ashes that line the gravel walkway.
About the Poem
As the box office anticipates a slowdown due to well-justified writers’ strikes, the “global record box” continues to hit new highs. The future of writing, living, and cohabitating on an Earth as disrespected as creativity is now taken no more seriously than a roll of the dice.
About the Author
Jen Schneider is an educator who lives, works, and writes in small spaces throughout Pennsylvania.