Local Weather
by Andrew Squitiro
Dynamo Verlag, 2024
94 pages
Reviewed by Geoff Watkinson

The 16 essays that comprise Andrew Squitiro’s debut essay collection Local Weather fuse and braid the themes of the changing nature of weather and the impact of climate change with the rough tides of the author’s prior long-term romantic entanglement. There are 15 chronologically numbered essays, simply title “Local Weather I,” “Local Weather II,” and so on, before a 16th final essay entitled, “Innate Affection.” The essays are marvelously approachable, piercing the thin membrane of individual and collective yearnings. Squitiro circles around love, loss, identity, and change like the hurricanes and storms he experiences in New Orleans.

In the opening essay, Squitiro writes, “Summer is fleeing in the rain, hopscotching over the flooded courtyard to get to my backyard dependency. It’s Taking Back Sunday, triple shower days, the darkness of night too short to share them with anyone but you. It’s getting so used to the sunrise that we mistake dawn for last call.” The nature metaphors, analogies, and thematic braids are constant. The lyricism of the prose should not be surprising, as Squitiro’s background is deep-seeded in poetry.

The natural world, and the impact that we have had on the environment, is a constant character in these essays to counter the aloneness—and, perhaps, loneliness—of which Squitiro attempts to make sense. The narrator is aware that this is an attempt—the definition of the word “essay” (to try or attempt), as he asks dozens of questions, often stacked one after the next.

As the collection begins to peel back the onion, it gains momentum. In Essay II, for example, he writes, “When the storm misses us, life begins again awkwardly. Like the colliding noses of a bungled first kiss, there’s an understanding that this will happen again soon, for real this time. Except kisses are exciting, and storms are disastrous.” There are numerous examples like this where Squirito displays the parallels of love and weather (“Like the colliding noses of a bungled first kiss…”) as well as the contrasts (“Except kisses are exciting, and storms are disastrous.”).

He builds upon the inevitability of destruction. In “Local Weather II,” for example, he writes: “I’m always trying to find a healthy outlet for my body’s yearning toward self-destruction.” By the fifth essay, the theme of health explodes into the realm of emotion: “I want to know I still affect you somehow. There’s folklore in Japan that says, if you love someone unreachable — be it a lover or a deceased — they’ll infect you. Their spirit will take the body of a fox and they’ll enter you, through your eyelids or nipples, in the dead of night.”

By Essay VI, Squitiro zooms out from intimate, individual love, and puts the focus solely on the planet: “The apocalypse shouldn’t be so pleasant, but it is. It’s divine.” He pulls in research, statistics, analysis—stepping away from the lyricism and ironic beauty that comes out of self-destruction and global destruction, and instead focuses on the devastation that is occurring in front of our eyes, concluding, “The world is ending and no one’s going to stop it.” Perhaps it isn’t a surprising conclusion: in the eyes of the narrator, this is the reality of what we so often do to ourselves, and so why should it be surprising that it’s what we do to the natural world?

Essay VII’s focus on control and desperate questioning is intelligently placed after such a scornful depiction of humanity. Squitiro writes, “What do you feel culpable toward? Are you actually? Who’s responsible, who’s in charge? In this light, the Serenity Prayer is more parable than prayer.” There is a place for spirituality. For focus on connection with where we are in space and time.

The questions are existential and universal. But Squitiro’s precision with lexicon and cohesion has the questions jump off the page. In “Local Weather X” he writes, “And if the living world has instinct, what does that mean? Can it get sick, become deranged? Does it have thoughts that precede action? Feeling? When the bacteria conquers the white blood cell, is it happy? Does it feel rewarded?” Neither the reader nor the narrator has rational answers to these questions. But it’s the questions that aren’t asked, directly, that lurk in the backdrop of the lyricism: Can we stop climate change before it’s too late? Am I capable of love? What does it mean if everything is transitory?

In the closing essay, “Innate Affection,” the hurt and yearning of the 15 Local Weather essays are put into perspective. With a party raging inside, the narrator sits outside with a long-time friend who shares some gut-wrenching news. “It was like my mind was speaking a language my body had forgotten,” Squitiro writes, “and its movements for the next hour or so were under the control of something else, a leaf reaching toward the light of a window, cicadas at dusk.” There is beauty here, even when the world is falling apart. He goes home and “collapse[s] into” his girlfriend. The narrator reflects that “When people say sex is complicated, they’re talking about power. When people say love is stronger than hate, they’re refluxing platitudes. I’ve never cared for either of these ideas — they’re banal, at least to me.” After all, this is the apocalypse for his friend, and the narrator can barely breathe, but he might just be capable of love.

Andrew Squitiro is the author of Local Weather (Dynamo Verlag, 2023), as well as several chapbooks of poetry from his own press, Gaggle Books. His work has appeared in Entropy, [PANK], and DIAGRAM, among other journals. He holds an MFA from Old Dominion University and a BA from the University of Missouri. At present, he directs the Office of Undergraduate Research for Tulane University, in New Orleans, where he lives.