At this time last year, my neighborhood was abuzz with the busy lives of the cicadas.
This year, June is quiet, and I miss the constant hum and chirp.
As I reminisce about last year’s infestation and look forward to the next one (16 years from now), I’d like to share with you this poem I wrote in honor of these little creatures on June 17 of last year: the day they disappeared.
Ode to Cicadas
I awakened to silence today;
no more buzz-saw, rhythmic mating call outside my window.
“Why search for the brashest, most obnoxious mate?”
I wanted to ask the females so many times, “Insist on higher virtues!”
But amid the din, they wouldn’t have heard me,
nor would they have cared.
With only a few short weeks to live, they rushed to quick judgment and acted on impulse.
While milky mocha exoskeletons remain on tree trunks, leaves, and bannister,
like so many freckles dotting fair summer skin,
the lively beings they encased are gone,
leaving their progeny as eggs, soon nymphs,
ensconced in the ground.
When I was sixteen, I encountered my first cicada brood.
A swarm of Biblical proportions, they covered my world;
they flew beside me as I walked to and from school,
lighting on my teal L.L. Bean Deluxe Backpack
and getting caught in my friends’ hair.
I laughed and helped to disentangle and free the creatures
so they could live their short lives.
I imagined the cicadas were surprised and alarmed at the stir they caused,
themselves having emerged from the earth only days before.
I tried to envision what my life would be like the next time the cicadas came.
I would be old then.
I would no longer carry a backpack or a binder,
or walk to and from school.
Would I still enjoy catching and holding cicadas?
Would others still cringe at the thought of them?
How could I stand the suspense of waiting
another lifetime to see them again?
Now, the only colorful remnants
of the magicicadas
are their shimmering wings,
scores littering the ground and a few tracked into the house
on the paws of my unsuspecting dog:
my dog who, last week, like a Hungry Hungry Hippo,
snapped and gobbled them from the garage wall.
A short diversion in the dog’s life:
the cicadas will not appear for him again this year, as he might expect,
or next year—
he probably will not live to see another brood.
My last dog never got to see them at all; he was born too late and died too soon.
But do dreams of cicadas inhabit the collective unconscious of dogs?
When they swat and snap, and gulp and yelp,
are they running among cicadas in their dreams?
Seventeen years ago,
I never dreamed that I would this year watch
my Facebook friends’ children’s reactions to the infestation.
Some are old enough to know that their Homoptera friends
will not be with them again next year.
The nymphs will grow up with them: parallel but separate existences.
When they are quite grown up, children and cicadas, they will meet again
—but with wonder or annoyance?
As day lilies and lightning bugs overtake cicadas’ place in my imagination,
as they will for the next sixteen summers,
I wonder what life holds for me, for us all, while the nymphs mature.
Whatever our age, we, too, will mature along with the nymphs,
developing and shedding exoskeletons.
And our dreams,
like the shining iridescence of cicada wings,
will herald us, and we will leave them behind:
fragile yet lasting,
a reminder of what has come before
and a promise of what is yet to come.