Today on Ethical ELA’s Open Write, Stacey Joy invites participants to lift a line of poetry and use it in creating a Golden Shovel poem.
I was thinking about it being President’s Day, so I went in search of poems written by our presidents. This led me to Jimmy Carter, the first U.S. President to publish a book of poetry in his lifetime. He is our longest-living president; at age 98, he has just entered hospice care. I have lifted a line from his verse.
“To hear the same whale’s song” – Jimmy Carter, “Life on a Killer Submarine,” Always a Reckoning and Other Poems
when my life draws to its close I imagine the last thing I hear will be cicadas rattling high in the green oaks as I pass, fervently calling, calling the way, same lost and found returning sound of whale’s pulsating destination song
Yesterday I tried to rescue a cicada that had fallen on the pavement in the bus loop at school.
I didn’t see it fall. I only saw it on its back, wildly fluttering its wings, unable to right itself.
As cicadas are huge insects, many of my colleagues preferred not to get near it.
But I have loved cicadas all my life. Their summer song, that choral buzzing swelling from the treetops, sends my spirit spiraling skyward. I find it among the most comforting of Earth’s songs.
And so I went and picked it up.
The cicada beat its wings in a frenzy, for a second clinging to my dress with its hook-legs.
I placed it, right side up, in the mulch at the roots of a crape myrtle.
It flipped over on its back again.
This is what cicadas do, what most insects do, when they are dying. Their legs can’t support them anymore.
I figured the creature would be gone by the time school dismissal was over. All I could do was provide a dignified passing for it in the mulch under the tree versus being flattened by the wheel of a bus.
But it was still alive, moving its legs a little, when time came for me to leave.
So I put it in a cup and brought it home.
It was still and silent for most of the ride, except for one episode of weak wing-beating against the cup.
I placed it, right side up, under some ivy in a planter on the back deck.
A couple of hours later, it was on its back again, still feebly moving a leg or two.
I don’t know how long it takes cicadas to die. I don’t know if they feel pain, anxiety, or fear. I know they live the greater part of their lives underground (up to 17 years, some of them) and their time above is short (a few weeks). I start listening for their song at the end of May, the month of my birth, and I hear the last strains sometime in September. Cyclical, symbolic creatures, cicadas. Across cultures and legends, they’re most often associated with immortality and resurrection.
Yet this one was dying. I couldn’t help it or save it. I couldn’t tell it how grateful I am for its kind, and it couldn’t care. I couldn’t give it peace.
In the end, it gave me peace to let it play out here at home with honor in the ivy-sheltered planter. As night drew near, dozens of other cicadas called from the trees…a fitting requiem for a fellow northern dusk-singing cicada.
Maybe it could hear. Maybe the song was a comfort, a blessing, a benediction.
Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.
haiku story poem
dog days of summer triple-digit heat index white haze cloaks the air
one can drown in it too hot for lying in grass even in the shade
lethargic rhythms settle on all living things except for insects
unrepentant sun shimmers on dragonfly wings iridescent darts
buzzing cicadas in feverish frenzy sing of love high in trees
remaining unseen falling silent before storms darkening the skies
as lightning’s forked tongue snakes from the heavens to earth (thunder, they told me
when I was a child, is just the angels bowling; that’s their pins, crashing)
—the heat breaks at last like evening revival saving weary souls
murmuring water seeps into my dreams ephemeral streams
playing with a variation of pantoum, on gratitude found in favorite sounds
When I listen, I can hear the sound of gratitude in the rattle of summer’s last cicada, clinging and crystal tones of children, singing
The sound of gratitude— in the distance, church bells ringing and crystal tones of children, singing then at your voice, my heartstrings quiver
In the distance, church bells ringing Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring then at your voice, my heartstrings quiver one last “I love you” before retiring
Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring —when I listen, I can hear one last “I love you” before retiring in the rattle of summer’s last cicada, clinging.
Cicadas are ancient symbols of renewal, rebirth, transformation, change, resurrection, immortality, spiritual realization.Socrates linked the cicada song with divine inspiration in religion, poetry, art, and love.
Thanks to Ruth at SOS: Magic in a Blog for the sounds of gratitude inspiration & to Susan Bruck for hosting Poetry Friday Roundup at Soul Blossom Living.
A friend who knows of my strange love for the loud, jarring buzz of cicadas presented me with this card for my birthday. Fashioned from repurposed material, these snippets, chosen with artistic precision and care, strike deep…
Sing loud & proud
your soul is joyful loving and wants to sing
The world’s loudest cicada is the Brevisana brevis, a cicada found in Africa that reaches 106.7 decibels
Earth itself has a sound, an incessant hum caused by pounding ocean waves measured at a frequency 10,000 times lower than what humans can hear
Speak up out
For now is the time of cicadas; some of them, sleeping underground for seventeen years, are due to rise.
Yesterday, when the sun was brightest, I walked and walked the path around the graveyard of a country church, listening for the first strains.
Seems they are late. I wonder why.
I thought about their wings, how the sectional lines running through the lower portion of these long, diaphanous structures form the letter W or P. It is said that these are omens for War or Peace.
Unless Nature is a prophet.
Whatever pattern lies in the veins of their wings, or however it’s perceived, the cicada’s song is always one of life. Of survival. It is individual. It is collective. It is precious.
Most people call it cacophony, a harsh, deafening, discordant noise … not hearing the song for what it is. Not recognizing it the way cicadas do. We are not cicadas.
Yet there’s something of us, of all living things, in the sound. A song not heard with ears but with the heart, that ceaseless hum of our own brief journey from the womb to the ground. A song of earth, ocean, dust of the stars, for we are repurposed atoms of these; we carry them all, and each other, within us. Can we even hear our own song, any more than we can know our own heart, for what it really is? How can we even think we know someone else’s?
Until it becomes a collective cry of the heart.
Speak up out
your soul is joyful loving and wants to sing
even in sorrow, loss, grief, despair
even in fear, rage, hurt
especially in overcoming, healing,
rising, at long last
to greet the season of change.
Today, Two Writing Teachers shared words from Toni Morrison: This is precisely the time when artists go to work.There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore the pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.
Like that of Jordan Kim, who created this cicada collage. Her mission: To inspire others to honor our connection to the natural world and to each other.
Let it be our repurposed song, fashioned from the fragments of our hearts. Let it be positive. Let the Earth ring with it.
My love for the sound of cicadas is a recurring motif in my writing.
It stems from childhood summers spent with my grandparents in the country, the most idyllic days of my existence.
In thinking of Earth Day, my first inclination is to write on In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
That verse, Genesis 3:19 in the King James, conjures images from At Home: A Short History of Private Life. Here’s Bill Bryson’s observations of country churchyards in England where churches seem to be sinking into the ground: Think about it. A country parish like this has an average of 250 people in it, which translates into roughly a thousand adults deaths per century, plus a few thousand more poor souls who didn’t make it to maturity. Multiply that by the number of centuries that the church has been here and you can see that what you have here is not eighty or a hundred burials but probably something more on the order of, say, twenty thousand … that’s a lot of mass, needless to say. It’s why the ground has risen three feet.
In other words … we are the earth.
Times being the pandemic they are, death surrounds us. April 22 also marks the anniversary of the sudden passing of my husband’s father at the age of fifty-four. My husband was just twelve.
But I do not wish to turn Earth Day into a death knell.
I write about cicadas today because they lie in the earth and emerge—some after seventeen years—to sing their song of life.
In the thick woods and byways of North Carolina, from May through September, it’s a deafening cacophony; but as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so there is beauty in the ear of the listener.
In honor of Earth Day, a “found poem,” of sorts, from a former blog post I wrote, entitled Cicada Rhythms:
The song of cicadas calls to me from long ago from sultry summers in the country where narrow dirt roads keep an ominous forest from encroaching on rustic homeplaces from tiny cemeteries where baby after baby is buried under white monuments adorned with lambs at the old church just around the bend. The song is of the ages of the rising and falling of generations all of us coming and going in our time a song reverberating from oaks, pines, cypresses across canals teeming with frogs and turtles to white-tailed deer standing along the fields at dusk. It is the bright song of the sun of hope of continuity. It is the dark song of the night oddly comforting— something out in the blackness is vibrant, alive maybe keeping watch while children drift off to sleep. It is the sound of safety of stability of belonging. Calling, calling the crescendo mirrors the rhythm of life brimming with promise echoing eternity. When I hear it I am a child again no matter how many summers have come and gone. Every spring as I mark another year of existence I listen for the first rattle. You’re back! my heart sings. Ah, but we were here all along they might say if cicadas had words. There’s a lot of living and loving yet to do. You have today. Carry on.
The cicada isn’t exactly a beetle, but a “true bug.” They symbolize renewal, rebirth, transformation, change. They can disappear for many years to return en masse. Their buzzing call is made by the males, who begin singing soon after emergence.
About a month ago I shared this idea for a story about a little girl who loves cicadas and who’s having a hard time dealing with her parents’ separation. The girl’s name is Ada and she becomes seriously ill . . . hence the title, “Sick Ada,” cicada . . .
The story’s been gestating for a while as there were so many things to flesh out: How old is Ada? Why are her parents separated? Who left, Mom or Dad? Why? What’s the deal with her cicada fascination? How does she get sick? Most of all: Where should the story begin?
I considered writing this scene first: Near the end of the story, Ada goes into the hospital, sick enough that her recovery hangs in the balance. It is winter, when cicadas don’t sing, but she hears the heater rattling in her hospital room and believes it to be cicadas. She decides she doesn’t mind dying as long she can hear them . . .
But I am not starting there, and Ada will not die because my friend Kathleen interceded, pleading for the little girl’s life.
Amid much encouragement and a few thinly-veiled threats (thanks, Friends!), here’s the first draft opening scene.
The darkness began to change.
Strips of light glimmered between the blinds until a thin finger of sunshine pushed through, reaching across Ada’s rumpled bed to caress her cheek.
At its warm touch, she opened her eyes.
Ada sat straight up in bed.
It’s my birthday! I am nine.
She felt strangely old.
Sitting there in the grayness, Ada knew two certainties. Today the cicadas would start singing. They always started singing on her birthday; Daddy said it was their song of celebration for her coming into the world. He would sing to her, too, only this time it would be over the phone. He promised to call today. Next week when school was finally out, Mama would drive Ada to the airport, put her on a plane, and Daddy would be there to meet her when the plane landed. It would be her first flight.
Ada wondered if cicadas sang on the other side of the country.
The other certainty was that she wouldn’t get her biggest birthday wish of all, that Daddy would come home to stay.
So, Friends, that’s how Ada’s story begins for now, rough as it is.
For the record: The cicada is an ancient symbol of change or transformation and the name “Ada” just so happens to mean “noble.”