It was the spring and I was in Mr. Gates’ English class when I first learned about the 17-year cicadas — the insects that nestle themselves underground for well over a decade and then emerge over one summer. They are large green things with white wings and red eyes.
I was in 8th grade, and I was not afraid of them. I hoped to watch them dig themselves out of the ground. I wanted to hear the males sing to the females — Mr. Gates said it would happen at twilight — a love ritual that sprouts from their abdomens, a fact that resonated with my 14-year-old self. I’d felt the catch of my own breath, my own stomach flutter, and the loss of my own appetite. I liked thinking that maybe this was the beginning of a song I wouldn’t mind listening to for a while.
I associate that summer with the movie Say Anything, bike rides to the high school football field while wondering if I’d earn a spot on the drill team and dance at halftime, writing nightly in my journal, and cicadas. It was a summer of emergence.
Turns out, so is the summer of 2020. The United States is the only place in the world that hosts the 17-year cicada, and while we decide how much to emerge, or whether to emerge at all, the winged creatures will be here, and they’re here to mate.
“This is a biological phenomenon,” Eric Day, an entomologist at Virginia Tech, told the New York Times. “So we can observe them and maybe even enjoy them.”
I’m someone who feels assaulted by just about every aspect of nature, but I root for these guys. I’m sure it’s because I first learned about them in Mr. Gates’ class, weeks before I moved on to high school. That summer I hunted for them. I listened for them, their buzz a perfect harmony to the Chicago el train rushing in and out of the city, always sounding as if it would fall right off the track. By the time I was wearing the drill team skirt and matching sweater and sitting in Mr. Blackburn’s freshman English class trying to get a handle on The Odyssey, I’d forgotten about the cicadas.
Cicadas are most vulnerable right after they leave their childhood shell, the exoskeleton. The New York Times explains that this is because “their wings are wet, and they must wait for them to dry before they can fly off.”
This parallels with the narrative I constructed while I watched for them when I was 14. I had a hunch they were waiting, though I didn’t think it was for their wings to dry. I thought that maybe they were reveling, for just a moment, in their new bodies — feeling sunshine for the first time in this brand new world in which they now stood. Before they spread their wings and took off.
Consider what might emerge this summer and write a poem about it.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s one from Richard Maxson we enjoyed.
From Shade and Shadow
The road behind me,
beyond the many hooks and buckles,
has fallen below the infinite sky,
plunged into clouds and highlands.
The frail birds of sadness
that were mine have turned away.
The path to now is dissolved in distance.
The valley before me is both ancient and new.
Here, there are benign and certain bowers
that hold me in respite for days
from the wilt and wail of tedious journey.
When I have stayed too long,
and there is no fear, I am suspect
that I have strayed from my quest,
it is fear that draws me out.
It is fear then I boldly embrace.
Daring makes a friend of fear
Browse more poetry prompts
Twirl is writing magic.
“This book is writing gold. This book, like all of Callie’s writing, makes me sit up and pay attention to my life. She reminds me why I write my own stories—fiction and non-fiction—to make sense of the world, my thoughts, my dreams, my reflection, etc. She reminds us that real life, our every day ordinary lives, are beautiful and worth taking a closer look. There’s always more to learn about ourselves and not everything has to have a bow tied on top. We don’t always have to arrive when we think we’ve reached the end, and TWIRL is such a beautiful reminder of that. There’s magic in this book.” – Tracy Erler