torpid, torpor

The dogged daze of summer is here, the time when it is so torrid you feel stupid. The very air seems to torque with an opalescent, opaque moisture, and even as the empyrean unleashes torrents you are in a stupor. It is torpid, and you are in torpor.

This is not to say that torpidity is native to summer. For hibernators, winter is the season of torpor. But humans are, if anything, estivators. We lie on the beach like canids; we compound our heat intoxication with umbrella drinks and tall cans; we import a purportedly tropical turpitude; we drink of lethe and are lethargic; we are numb, but comfortably so.

And so we are torpid. The source of torpid and torpor is Latin torpere ‘be numb’. Imagine, a full-on verb, not just an adjective taken as predicate! If I could say “I torp” instead of “I am numb” or, of course, “I am torpid”… but we were too sluggish of sense and wit to import a verb as a verb; we just imtorped it to suit our idea of this slothful numbness as a state affecting a person rather than a thing the person does.

OK, fine. If you are torpid, it doesn’t really seem like a thing you chose to do, does it? You didn’t order up this mugginess, it just mugged you. You have been slugged into sluggishness. Poikilothermic beasts (supposedly “cold blooded”) slow down when it gets colder, but we humans are homeothermic, and when the heat-buzzer cicada sounds off, we know we are lying back and roasting, spatchcocked on beach blankets.

Or perhaps going for a walk. We are in a state of torpor, so we are unlikely to be sprinting, but we might still wander abroad and perhaps find someplace cool to land. Or we may just lie back on a long chair and read poetry, or do even less than that.

Here’s a poem. I wrote it years ago, but every summer it comes back to me. Pour yourself a Pimm’s cup and read it at leisure.

Sunday in Guildwood

The heat-buzzer insect,
harbinger of torpor—
such a good day
to tumble into the lake.
And old mister Sigurdsen
taking a stroll,
his china dogs cool
back in the home,
the woods a new place—
arms that hewed trees
meet bark cracked like skin.
Green shadows in his eyes
and the air like clear syrup—
nothing more than crawls,
stumbles, rests,
on the high shingled bluffs.
His grandchildren sit
in the GO train station,
hard, cold as soda,
snack-bar radio
jangling, toes tapping.
Disappointed, time to go.
The roots are rough,
the branches distant,
the sun accusing,
the soil fresh and soft.
The train is coming.
Such a good day
to tumble into the lake.

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