Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Song of the Thirteen-Year Cicadas

A Poem for Valerie on Her Birthday

“Why don’t we do it in the road?”

My bicycle tire

Passes an inch

From a two-headed cicada,

As my son calls it.

Are they the rabbits of the insect world?

Multiplying by the billions,

Engaging in a month-long orgy

Of cicada love.

Then, fulfilling their destinies, they die.

Or are they the cows of the insect world,

Large, slow, gentle creatures,

Grazing for thirteen years,

On tree roots,

Providing food to fatten the moles?

Then, emerging, they are like babies,

No worldly experience to prepare them

To defend themselves from hungry birds.

Or curious humans.

Or hungry humans.

Cicada ice cream, emergence cookies,

Cicada pizza, spicy cicada stir fry,

Pesto cicada pasta,

Cicada-portobella quiche,

“El Chirper” tacos.

“They’re high in protein,” people say,

As if our normal diet were somehow deficient.

It’s best to gather the newly emerged “tenerals,”

They’re the softest.

Don’t eat the legs and wings.

Like dogs, they have

A thirteen-year life span;

One year for a human

Is like seven years for a cicada.

And they have well developed hearing.

I think of them more like teenagers, though,

At age thirteen they are just discovering the world

And other cicadas.

It’s a month-long frenzy; the droning hum we hear

Is the mating call of amorous males.

“I can’t get enough of your love,” he sings,

Determined to find a receptive female,

Coyly flicking her wings.

He defends against male interlopers

Through acoustic jamming.

They are so caught up in their teenage hormones –

Their relentless need for the love embrace –

That they are oblivious to

The brevity of

Their remaining days.

If these were seventeen-year cicadas

Would they be drinking and driving?

Begging to borrow the car keys?

“Even going so slowly you can’t fly without bumping into things;

Why on earth would I let you drive my car?”

I tend them like sheep,

Rescuing them from the car windshield,

The asphalt pavement,

The screened-in porch

Where they would be doomed.

Fly, cicadas! Mate!

Find your love!

Lay your eggs in safe places,

So we can enjoy your song again

In thirteen years.

by Elizabeth Hornbeck, 6/4/11