It’s so hot, your brain sounds the alarm—
orders your body to pump water
from interior reserves,
hydrants in the blood, muscles, kidneys,
and brain itself—through dilated vessels
to the skin’s surface. From there,
your body’s warmth breaks the water
into gaseous molecules that take flight,
carrying the heat into the air—
an exquisite, natural cooling system.

But if the air already is filled
with water molecules—
the humidity being high—
there may be little or no room
for more from your body.
The water is stranded,
pooling on your skin’s runway,
so cooling stops and cooking begins.

The heart revs the pump faster,
but it does no good
as your organs begin to bake,
muscles cramp, toxins leak,
blood clots, kidneys sputter,
brain cells die.

No worries though—
if you climb out of the pot
as soon as it begins to simmer,
before you begin to boil;
or even if slightly singed
or toasted, you flee the oven
before your goose is cooked.


About the Poem

The poem is implicitly about the “wet-bulb” temperature, which is the temperature of a thermometer wrapped in a water-soaked cloth with air blowing over it–reflecting the cooling effect of evaporation, i.e. perspiration. Once the wet-bulb temperature rises to equal the ambient air temperature, the body can no longer perspire–its cooling system shuts down, goes offline, regardless of how much water one drinks. The only way to avoid the dire consequences of the body “cooking” is to cool it down by escaping the heat. With 2023 being the hottest summer globally in recorded history, these combinations of temperature and humidity are occurring around the world with greater frequency and the number of deaths from heat is soaring.

About the Author

Anne Gruner is a Pushcart-nominated writer whose poetry has appeared in over a dozen print and online publications, including “Amsterdam Quarterly Review,” “Beltway Poetry Quarterly,” “Plum Tree Tavern,” “Honeyguide Literary Magazine,” and this one. She is finalizing her debut poetry collection on the changing climate. Her fiction and creative non-fiction appeared or are forthcoming in “Persimmon Tree,” “Third Flatiron Review,” “Constellations: Journal of Poetry and Fiction,” “Hippocampus Magazine,” “Avalon Literary Review,” “Silver Blade Magazine,” and others. She lives in McLean, Virginia with her husband and two golden retrievers.

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