Seventeen years ago, they dropped
From the trees, from the limbs
Where their mothers buried and left them.
Then, though, they felt no abandonment.
Crustaceous nymphs, they burrowed
To roots and fed for seventeen years:
The same window of time it takes
From birth to rising high
School seniors. Now, in May,
It's prom season and these grubs,
Caramel-colored, tunnel surfaceward
Emerge from holes the diameter of pencils,
Split their husks, and unfurl dry veined wings
Sheer as skirts over long dresses. The red-eyed
Bugs, hardened, climb into the same boughs
Where their parents birthed them. There,
They ratchet their courtship songs,
The air heavy and rattling with their music.
Or most do this. Others dead end
On low-hanging branches and fly for it,
No strategy apparent, just blind leaps.
Some crash land in the lake, pulled apart
By bluegill or mercifully swallowed whole
By bass. The drowned ones, bobbing
On the surface, are vacuumed under by carp.
Some bugs, mistaking man-made things
For their ancestral trees, climb fence posts
Easy pickings for crows, mocking
Birds, blue jays. The garden spider
Eats well, too, webs heavy with magicicada.
In my back yard, some scale the fluted
Base of the ceramic birdbath, lose
Their grip on the underside of the bowl
And drop onto the grass only to try
Again. The exhausted ones fall
On their backs, legs wriggling until the sun
Freezes them into arthritic claws.
One, I saw dead, head in husk, ass out,
And wondered whether that's our state:
Afraid of what's out there, scared to act,
To make that next move, like reluctant
Slumped-over teenage boys in the stag line, dateless
Girls across the swirling dance floor, waiting.
Or do we dance? Or struggle to the highest boughs
And fill a breeze ripe with honey suckle
Mowed grass, and bean tree with the miraculous
Insect percussion of our castanets?
Kevin C. Stewart is the author of The Way Things Always Happen Here, a collection of stories, and Margot, winner of the Texas Review Novella Prize.