Chicago Swelter

Charles F. Thielman

The heat drags its knuckles
over blacktop, brick, arms, faces,

jack-boots the street as humid mist
drifts from the heart of our bricked square

out to the curb where coffee shop workers
are delivering ice waters to the street urchins.

Scooping a cube onto her neck, she’s trying
to triage her malaise with iced coffee,

relief dissolving her street mask for a moment.
Summer night draping damp linens

over city intaglio, blue glyphs of exhaust
above intersections, verve and pocked nerve

hinged on the dark geometries of power lines.
No seats inside, she fingers another cube

up an arm, beveling the edge honed all day
at work unloading boxcars to load trucks.

Square denizens promenade and sweat,
cop on horseback beside a sidewalk tree

regulating the pulse as a corner sax player
lets fly with a freighted wail, notes

like orchids spun down canyons,
drawing stragglers to our shared swelter.

“Chicago Swelter” was previously published in Oyez Review, 2011

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