Cicada Meditation

Cicada Meditation

If scatter was a pattern,
that’s the one they made—no swarm,
no lines from hill or hive to sky.

They may have, must have
come from the clusters
of thunderclouds when they lay
cocooned underground,
or constellations no one would see to trace.

But, out of it, they went where they fit,
some studding our oak’s bark like beads,
free, unstrung,
others covering over the divots
of hail and the nail holes in our walls,

and the most isolated
simply settled anywhere, everywhere
else, making grass blades into cat tails,
sifting into the henhouse
like aliens hatched out of the blond
nesting boxes,
and infesting the feed, live mines.
They passed through our farm cats
almost whole.


They made my space their own, though,
as if they knew somehow
that I gave way to whatever I feared,
that even the tightening

of my skin by dried mud
felt a little hellish,
the brush of just one of them
on any of me. Our long lawn,
where I had played, became
their territory.

I was catapulted into battle patrol—
my imagination
magnifying their territory—
the summer-whitened
tines of grass jutting up
from the rune-writing of the brown
roots, easy to transform by daydream
into a supple jungle
where they waited, not patient,
just dumb.

But they waited
to be seen, to be touched,
and flutter under the toucher,
hoping not to have to live
in that shadow of a sky-annihilating
giant, one of my brothers,
maybe remembering the solid
shadow of the soil they’d left,
not to have to move again,
out of that sun, that country sun
that must have clung to their wings
like it did to my skin—sweat-heated,
honed by humidity into a lens,
absent and phantasmic.

Not far out of their shells,
they may have lived in that hope
not to be broken open
by something inside of them.


Anything undermining
routine was an invader,
and we engaged and engaged them
like dreams, always coming
and somehow almost calming,
highlights, at least in mind, cycling:

one brother severed their heads
like seeds he’d save,
that speckled the melon-red
bed of the wagon, and blended
with the little mortar craters
made by rust that couldn’t
be painted over, not
counting them, not
even resentful, only
showing us our war,

and then my holding one,
holding off the blitz of jitters
its waxy, clammy armor
brought me, under the stutter
of water our outside spigot
shot when I wound the handle
past its last resistance,
and the whole insect came
undone, those glassy-white
water jets punching it
out of life and my hand,

and so many others crushed under
whatever we were.
We killed them with all we could be.
All shell
but the white wires of
some guts inside, they
could not be reduced past
that, even their eyes,
those tomato-red beads,
seemed to stay solid shreds,
so something of them,
crushed, kept up that act
of living, even of looking
back at us.


An exacting look back—
what I have always hoped for
out of poetry? But my past is less
a place than a crumpled map
where the coordinates wander
by some order I don’t know,
or a higher disorder, or
a war on the moment I’m in,
or grace’s sometimes crazy-
seeming way. And I fear

that hidden in that army of undead
cicadas are the loved ones
I’ve sometimes run from,
sometimes left dead, the weight of it,
that only God should hold.

Why then
remember them,
reassemble every dismembered insect,
every lead-veined wing with its
pattern like a torn-down screen

in one of those country
doors, every nearly hollow
bullet-neat body, every eye
that had that impossibly small
dot of a pupil, to take in
as little of the light as it could
fly by–all torn down and made
into new earth
for however many decades
now, but it comes automatically—
imagination’s hatching. Its army swarms.

How many loved ones have I
had and never even seen in any
human way, the many incubating
in the one routine, the heart-hurt, the stuff
everyone around me seems
to need in order to live, just
there to be walked over, or on?

There was Sarah,
fellow finalist for an award
in high school, and I knew
that she, like me, couldn’t
get her head around it,
because of what her head held
against her, like mine, and
I would go around her because
she would hide behind
the library door, and hold
herself the best she could.

Who have I given up—
what unloved ones?
Are they in me, an army,
like God was,
on my side?
Brothers, father, mother, Cold
War allies like the shy, shy
kids I’d silently, privately
side with in childhood,
cousins, humming swarms
of other presences in my
Perestroika post-divorce:
where are they in me?
Are they what stirs in there,
in that heart dirt I almost
can’t stand to have sometimes?


I see one, composite cicada
that looks like almost all of them,
and I like to sum him up
as a mummy’s thumb,
blackened like ivory is by time,
blunt at both ends,
face a button those eyes fit,
red, but this time, more like pinpricked
beads of blood, so say
the mummy was cursed
only to be folded in, to be
devoid on the outside, the
bound hide we see,
and buried underneath the living thing
his wings could look like a winding shroud,

shredded in symmetry; they lay there
mostly for ceremony. He roots
his penpoint feet in his territory, in
the site of his entire life.
The board I used as a toy sword
back then could have been laid
across the whole story of it–him. Them.
He seizes it, or her, whatever
he lives for, and that’s it. Well,
he leaves a second shell, all
anyone could see of him.

Is it his heart in his eyes, those black specks,
when they target what he wants
or what his code leads to,
and finds by the guide that is his god
that flight, that mate, that bark gnarl
or twig to cling to, and there it is,
his narrow sort of a narrative,
an ordinary path to live?


I like to imagine that phantom
of a moment when some
chemical signal in them,
and however many thousand years
of stories in us,
got started, as a light apart
from the sun’s, from the ones that seem
too practical, too devoted to running
centuries of routine, and also
that it looked more like fire than a star.

It may be bright violet,
and call dusk plum in that instant
cicadas make because they’re made that way,
their voices cohere as that noise
that will only grow, will fill in the black gaps
that, all the cold year, had made
islands out of night sounds,

and that mass voice, yes, might be traced
into a purpose, a trance-inducing,
mating-facilitating thing,
but whatever; it lives; it lives in waves,
and however far in an imagined past
it is, I still feel I can ask its master,
and that I might hear an answer,
that I might still, in some part, be silent
or innocent enough to listen in.


Maybe I never felt a part of the country.
It seemed to want or need
to beat me, to turn my life there
into a surrender I could never give.
But that wasn’t its fault, was it?
Maybe I wanted out of my head,
and out of that river
of nerves that everyone seemed to me
to ride toward God. Early on, then, I tried
to not stop holding
my breath, and to read my way free
of all that buzzing of wings, and even
at 5, to find the tall girls to treat
like trees, if I could sit in their arms,
or stand in their fanned shadows.
In our neighbors, friendly and bent
into their labor all the time, in mind,
I saw some bulldozing of growing old,
where grace made a draining, grainy
kind of radiance, like a weak light breaking
on anyone broken who could still
somehow raise what was left of themselves
into it, and praise its maker in the pain
of giving praise, and repeat, day
by decimating day. Who did they see? Me?


What made me take such a savage
variation on a page
from the cicadas’ book–a blank one
I wrote them, of becoming
a nothing, an absence, a noise far away,
that noise that stayed mine,
and I now see might be the dying kind?

Tithonus–I know this from
what seems like a summer’s
worth of searching,
wanted what I wonder if I want,
to live forever, not as a way
to savor nature, but an escape
from the pain of aging,
and the gods made him age forever.

But in one version I dug up online,
they made him a cicada
whose buzz, a hymn to them,
would never end, like
the one they might have heard
after the same fluttering, splintering,
broken sorts of cicada hordes
as ours, in our Missouri Troy,
took over their groves.

Was it then
an unlistenable, thankfully ungranted
request for death?


The wake of a past classmate
was in that same part of the country
as our former farm. I tried, one more time,
to read his face.

But it was just a mask, a husk;
he’d blown the soul out of it,
and the undertaker had already
drained away all but the exoskeleton,
but it looked like it had sat vacant,
like he had been buried even when
I knew him, frame to a seam,
and the violet of its colored eyelids,
showed, and shows, only spent shell.

What made it so he couldn’t be saved
and I am, I don’t know, but because
that something in me laminates
the question in imagination,
I nearly hear, under the flutter
of talk attacking the loss as we sat
with it in the brown main room
of the funeral home, old Troy Missouri
making that punishing kind of a hush
out of summer heat and that wind
that seems to only end and end,

but under that, and breaking it
by climbing, the clicks like locks
of cicadas making an incantation,
not singing a mass on purpose,
but just lost, and not yet able
to see the daylight they play in.

If I could have stayed later,
and mourned more, I would have.
But I can imagine, I try,
the cicadas seeding those Missouri trees,
mourning for me.


I’ve never tried to return, but I do
believe I found a dumb kind of love
that I might pray my way back to again,
for the cicada nymphs that didn’t fit in:

they had that faint, bright yellow
almost like butter or custard, but brighter,
as if lit just a little from within,
that made their eyes look dark, and
their wings magnified it, made it glint,
and they’d hold the bark hard, but
if pulled, would surrender, sit

in wind and use those wings, or
sit on my fingers like light that wouldn’t hurt.

Can this incubate into a metaphor for grace—
that I couldn’t feel their weight,
only the faith that they wouldn’t fly away?

Is that what almost lifts me when I pray?

Chad Parmenter‘s poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, AGNI, Kenyon Review, and Plume. His chapbook, Weston’s Unsent Letters to Modotti, won Tupelo’s 2013 Snowbound Chapbook Contest. His prose about poetry has appeared in American Poetry Review and Voltage. Two of his plays, The Short Knight and The Rat Trap, were included in the Comedies in Concert series at the University of Missouri, where he received his PhD.


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