September Heat

by Andrew Dufresne
Wild Poetry Forum
First Place, March 2022
Judged by Terence Culleton

I woke one night pebbled in sweat,
a dream in shreds hung
unremembered off a shoulder,
the crushing thought: no longer young,
not old, the feel of zero, yet
not zero, but zero getting older.

September was warmer than before,
based on statistics they keep
to have something to say, win a bet.
I’ve lost many shares of sleep
to heat, some to regret,
but most to fears, and keeping score.

Now that dream comes back to me
restored, it speaks in stutters.
It is a curtain and it flutters
inside a wooden window frame
through which I peer uncertainly
to see more of the same.

The heat before winter descends
tosses us into a sleepless dread
we dream to keep as September ends,
all Septembers present, past,
we think, what is cold is surely dead,
as warm September holds us fast.

Through sheer exertion of poetic will, this superbly crafted poem measures and, in a sense, reins in, its central and, for every one of us, devastating anxiety. The freshness of language like “pebbled in sweat” and “zero getting older” is complemented by the careful and surprising imagery of the third stanza, where the dream is revealed as a curtain fluttering in a window frame—and only that—“more of the same.” The rhymes are deft and unobtrusive, never over-determining the syntax or freezing up line endings. At the same time, the balanced six-line stanzas themselves are contained units. The movement between them lends a steady pulse to the poem’s revelation as contained in its central metaphor, in which September heat figures primarily as a precursor to winter’s imposition: “what is cold is surely dead.” This is an age-old set of associations—in that sense, universal. The poem, though, gives it an individualized reality that renders anything but formulaic its grim expression of fear and loathing vis-a-vis the irreversible passage of time. --Terence Culleton