Locust House Variations, A Weekly Column by Adam Gnade, “Questions for You in the Heat of July”


The heat of July in the dark heart of summer. Bats flit scattershot in the reddening dusk. Interstate 80, the middle of a dry spell and the farm fields passing—dark green cornstalks in blazing swelter, the round bales of hay like golden rolls of toilet paper. Tractors in the distance moving slow on the horizon.

Buy trash t-shirts and chocolate bars at truck-stops. Live off Chex Mix and yellow drink. Drive until you see roadside phantoms walking like Middle Earth Ents. Think about wounds that won’t heal, think about severance, isolation, a burning Earth.

Later, Mexican radio, static in the slurry heat and you picture mangos, tamarind candy, cracked concrete, electrical sky, dance clubs, communist bookstores, radical murals as vivid as fresh blood in the grass.

Later, sweet old country songs like a pile of sugar with red ants eating it. Commercials for lawyers and class action lawsuits, ads for debt relief.

Passing by an empty baseball field, a pro-life billboard with the photo of an out-of-focus infant, billboards for credit unions, another church beside the road—and this one’s called Christ Methodist and it’s flying a Trump flag.

You see water towers the color of blue sky, Sonic drive-ins with rows of parked cars full of people waiting for food, miles of dark woods blurring in the light.


The heat of July. Build up a city of refuge or try your best. Make endless lists and sketch out a castle wall, an empire of stone and safety.

Everyone you know has been hurting for so long you keep asking yourself when it began, how it began, and you get no answer.

This much you know: sometimes if a thing goes on long enough it feels like it will never leave.


The heat of July. At what point is pain just the new way you live? How do you bust down the walls of a jail always rising? The idea is to walk away from the things that hurt you and to find what you love and to love it profusely. But how do you get up the will to look if you’ve been looking all your life?

When do you call off the search party and resign yourself to grieving?

When do you take down those lost dog posters with that photocopied picture of what you most need?

Ask yourself this in the heat of July.

Adam Gnade