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12.03.02, tuesday afternoon

From "The Voice of the Cicada", an electrifying essay on entomology and life by Liz Seymour, as printed in Ladyfriend #4:

"I think a lot about cicadas these days. I have a little box on my desk containing the husk of a cicada resting on cotton, perfect wings folded, front legs curled, bright eyes on either side of his head undimmed by death. If I could lift the stiff casings beneath his wings I would see the two tiny drumheads to either side of his thorax that vibrated like pieces of sheet metal when he sang. The cicada in my box probably lived for no more than three weeks in the trees--that's the normal life span of a flying cicada. But the cicada had another life, the life lived underground, not for weeks but for years. The eggs that the female cicada interleaves among the woody layers of a tree branch hatch into larvae that fall to the ground to burrow into the hard summer dirt. There they lie for three years, or seven years, or thirteen years, or even seventeen years depending on the species, growing slowly, periodically shedding their skins and growing new, larger ones. For years the cicada lives there in the dark, sucking up what it needs from the tree roots, moving only when necessary to find another vein of sap.

What must it be like, then, when the urgent call comes? What deep imperative of summer infects the cicada's thin blood, what restlessness drives it upward into the flaring, uncertain air? How terrifying it must be to awaken in the familiar dark to discover that the darkness has become alien and that every tiny compass point in your body has swung unbidden towards the unknown. . . .

Certainly the cicadas that die underground have no way of knowing the space and air that lies above their earthen home, any more than a baby in the womb can understand the passage it is about to understake. I imagine that the cicadas who never make it to the surface do not suffer--certainly they are spared the pain of longing, never feel the tear along the margin of their existence, never experience the enchanting terrible hazardous exhilaration that comes down uninvited like a thunderstorm. It's the cicadas who climb above the earth who suffer, who feel the pain of metamorphosis, who expose themselves to all the hostile dangers of the above-ground world, who are born into time and change and loss, who thrill and fly and sing with joy, who will wear out their fragile bodies with their urgent singing, and upon whom, in the end, the whole continuing existence of the ancient machinery of the cicada species depends. . . .

I am 53 years old and sometimes I think I know less than I did when I was 20. but a few things I do know: life is full of surprises, terror is as necessary to life as love, and the unknown may be full of dangers but it is also full of the heavy scented sunshine of summer and high night skies illuminated with shooting stars. Remember to listen for the call. Remember to do the things that hurt. And always, always remember that you have wings."


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