Monday, May 27, 2013

Cicadas Returning


On Saturday morning, May 25th as soon as I stepped outside my door, heard and recognized their sound as if it were a high-pitched electronic buzz,  I knew millions of screaming cicadas had returned after 17 years to the tree tops of Cherry Mountain. Say again, where have they been for 17 years? Not dead but hunkered down under the earth at the  base of the same trees we look at day after day, year after year. The nymphs woke up, and now they're adults, climbing the trees, ready to mate. 
Magicicada Septendecim, sometimes called "the pharaoh cicada"  is a two inch insect of Brood II of the eastern US, found in New York from Albany and western Connecticut down through the Appalachian Mountains into the piedmont of Georgia.  Broods are identified by region, by cycle length of 13 or 17 years, and the years in which they appear. They are a large insect with a black head, red eye, and they have the longest life span of any other insect. These now on Cherry Mountain  are not the annual cicada that come out in late summer every year. This Brood II rises only after their 17 year hiatus. By June 30th, they will go silent again. 

The first time I heard the cicadas was when I moved to Cherry Mountain in the 1960s. I stopped at the foot of the mountain to get my mail out of  my mailbox, and there stood  Preacher Cable, pointing up and saying "The locust are back now screaming Pharaoh. Pharaoh." I could not get that song out of my head. Over the next few weeks, I wrote the poem  posted below, "Cicadas Returning."



Cicadas Returning
by Nancy Simpson


My neighbor waits
at the mailbox

for no other reason
than to tell me

they are back now
screaming Pharaoh, Pharaoh.

He asks if I know
they speak

a language of resurrection.
I say I don’t know anything

about Cicadas except
I’ve read they live

most of their lives
under the ground.

He says I should stop 
at the switch back

if I want to hear them.
I thank him for telling me

***

but I care little
about insects,

so I stop against my will,
turn off the truck motor

and stand alone on the
lower mountain curve, listening,

curious about any creature dead
all those years with so much life.

Ten thousand of the little 
big-eyed gods crowd my day,

joyous at high pitch:
Pharaoh, Pharaoh.
There will be none homeless
and plenty of food for all--

the lush green leaves of my trees,
enough to feed an army.

***

Come to their senses
they fly

cicadae
cicadae

their small stomachs
throbbing

again and again
the same verse

ten thousand voices
retuning, yes

memory of the song
played for me

rising 
through treetops

and I am going
down the road, singing.   

--Nancy Simpson This first published in Wayah Review
Reprinted in LIVING ABOVE THE FROST LINE
at Carolina Wren Press (2010)

4 comments:

Maren O. Mitchell said...

Oh Nancy, they are amazing, aren't they???? Love your cicada poem!

Glenda C. Beall said...

This is a very interesting post, Nancy. I noticed their singing when I got home this afternoon.
Great picture of one.
Thanks for sharing this poem again.

Nancy Simpson said...

Thanks Marin. I hoped to get a rise out of you, knowing how you value all creatures, especially insects.

Glenda, they are loud! Thanks for letting me know you've heard them too.

Brenda Kay Ledford said...

Nancy,
I like this poem very much. Yes, the sound of these insects is so loud. I used to know this preacher. I hope you are well.