A little later than usual, maybe, but the thick, wet blanket of summer has finally been rolled over the landscape by summer’s heavy hand. Stained by the sweat and juice of a day in the field followed by a hearty repast like a well-worn old tablecloth, it clings to you even when you retreat inside, into the meatlocker sanctuary of recirculated and cooled air.

The heat gets rubbed into you deep, like the spices of a Memphis barbecue, all spice and fog, all raw and dripping. It takes time, especially if you’re not used to its all-consuming humid embrace. People from up north stand it a little better each year until their blood thins out, just like swapping winter oil for summer in an old Ford.

You see them, the people who were born into the heat or grown used to it. They move with a weary and sparkling deliberateness, each step, each motion held against the cost in sweat and toil paid up front or in the laundromat. People have said that this is laziness, but it’s more introspection than anything. Thoughts don’t cost so much as a sweat-bead in a heat where waving hello might as well be dipping a hand in an ocean.

Empires have been forged and lost on those hot days, on porches, beneath shaded boughs, fanned by hand or machine. Empires of the world, sometimes, though not nearly so much as in the old days. Empires of the mind, of the soul, with all the grandeur and suffering that come loaded like bullets in that word.

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