the heat —
two boys take it
Paul Pfleuger, Jr.
In just seven words, this haiku conjures up myriad images. As
the oldest of three brothers and the father of three sons, my mind
races through memories in abundance. My most vivid recollection,
however, is more recent, and takes place in a work setting.
A former manager once attempted to motivate me with a highly public,
utterly unprofessional tirade. My response was even-tempered
but stern: I assured him that if he ever raised his voice to me
again, we would “step outside and settle it like men.” So here
are two questions to which most of us colloquial English-speakers
already know the answers: what is “it,” and what does it mean to
“take it outside”?
Paul Pfleuger helps us to answer this question by establishing the scene
with two simple words, “the heat.” We know this right away to be a reference
to temperature, but implications abound: among them tension, impatience and
discomfort. For this reason, we understand that the “it” in the second line
is not a barking dog or a burning frying pan. “It” is a boiling over of emotions that verges on physical confrontation
and is often blind to surroundings or circumstances. Combatants do well
to move their dispute to a place where it is less likely to cause
The “two boys” in the second line could be soldiers from a crowded barracks
or bar patrons who’ve had a few too many, but I prefer a more literal reading:
that two pre-adolescent males have somehow crossed from the land of “playing
nice” to the less hospitable terrain of “playing rough.” I recall my uncle
dealing with this situation by refusing to intervene in the quarrels between
my two cousins, but rather letting them fight in the backyard until one of
them returned to the house crying — usually from a wounded pride more than
any physical injury. The “winner” of the fight was then punished by my uncle,
the lesson being that no one really wins a fight between brothers.
In these boyhood skirmishes the stakes are usually not very high — more often
than not the two participants will not remember what started the disagreement.
So while not much may be resolved, tension is released instead of supressed,
and the boys return to being friends again.
I can’t help comparing this fraternal struggle to a typical summer weather
pattern: heat and humidity build throughout the course of the day, culminating
in a violent but brief thunderstorm, after which cooler temperatures prevail.
It is this post-storm feeling of refreshment, however fleeting, that remains
as I read and re-read Paul Pfleuger’s fine haiku.