They are such small, shy children—back there,
in a shadowy place, under the low-hanging limbs
of blue spruce, where the ground is scattered
with fallen needles—it has been an adventure
for them to steal off, to wander carefully,
during recess, away from the noise and clamor
of the older students, until they have come
to a place of their own. To the fort.
One of them
brings out a blue pasteboard box, the kind
that kitchen matches come in, and they begin
to gather the shells of cicadas from the limbs
and trunks of surrounding trees. They hold them
carefully, and look at them—at their bulging,
yellow eyes, their translucent backs—before
putting them into the box.
They do not know
what they will do with them, whether somewhere
after school, on the way home, behind a barn
or garage, there will be a funeral, the earth
carefully opened, the mourners gathered around.
They do not know whether the box, its contents
forgotten, will be left in a desk drawer, until
some janitor throws it out. They do not know
what it is in the trees at the playground’s edge
that sings, now, in the afternoon sunlight—
one body forcing out that shrill thin waterfall
of sound, then diminishing, trailing off, to be
followed by another, and another.
That the husks
in their box—the split and broken creatures—
are part of that music, that after so many years
of darkness, in the earth, there comes a time
of emergence, of flight—all this is not simply
a great mystery to these children, it is unknown,
They cannot know what is calling,
making that shimmering sound in the trees. It seems
always to have been here, it is a part of summer,
of returning to school, of the playground world.
Gradually they will begin to learn—taking up
cast-off things they find, and turning them over,
trying to imagine, talking to each other, saying
what they have heard, what older children have said.
But now, when the bell rings, they will hurry out
from among the shadows, brushing away the needles,
pretending that nothing is amiss, they have only
The one with the match box will
manage to conceal it, somehow, in his pocket.
When they are gone, filed back into the building,
there will be only the sound of cicadas calling,
and wind sifting through the pine-tree boughs.