Cicadas chorusing at the treeline—
swarm of engines that will not fire—
and I remember the half-acre sheets
of tobacco gauze we’d unroll
over seedlings—odd synesthesia
of insect chirr and a childhood
memory of staking these blank
banners in spring chill. What binds
the buzz to the gauze so that each
rev starts inside me (what exactly)?
Rectangles of sonic? Shrill bolts?
It is the males who sing, rattling
abdominal timbals to call their mates.
When a mess of them get going
there is a certain undulation—
the gauze, too, undulated. Back then
I’d press the side of my face to the dirt
to see gold-green seedlings beneath
their makeshift greenhouse—sticky
waft of tobacco and turned earth—
scent-sting of fertilizer and manure
on wavelengths of air lifting the sheer
cloth. Unlike the cicada, we don’t slip
our husks and still sing. The carapace
turns white with rosin, forelegs hooked
into the bark of a pine. One morning
my father fell and a fog came whispering
over his face. Any word that might have
lifted him had already climbed black
rungs of smoke where the winter grass
was burned away. Root-systems in
the red clay clods the tractor turned—
the white fingers of denotation dying.
Thick gray loom of Appalachian sky.
Diaphanous cacophony? Threadbare
clamor? The Cherokee told of
a hummingbird who breathed smoke
from the sacred pipe into the nostrils
to revive the dead. Once, lost in dream,
I sparked flint in the dark, and in that
flickering a damp field covered
with blank sheets. No spark landed—
no shoots of smoke as the mite-sized
tobacco seeds of flame fell from
my hands. The knocking of steel
to stone was the only sound. Then
my father appeared at the treeline
holding out an empty bridle.
The goddess, Eos, begged Zeus
to make immortal her human lover,
Tithonus, who thereafter merely
withered with age until he shrank
into the form of a cicada and whirred
eternal. I click my tongue and tremor
my larynx to say TREE and see yellow
caterpillars tented in a black cherry
next to the field ready to be planted.
Incessant bandages? Dissonant shrouds?
Language is, of course, gibberish
all the way up to the ear, but beyond
the ear there are pathways of fire—
a here—where this grove of rattling
bugs is saying Love me! Kill me!
Are you there? Beyond the ear, these
blank panels are making their own
racket. They are not scattered
eardrums in the field, but the seedlings
beneath, like fine cochlear hairs,
are capturing all the perturbations
of our coming and going to feed them
back to the earth from which we came.
Because the pathways lead me back
to here (where we both stood when you
still lived), because we pulled this fabric
taut in our four hands and staked it,
because this is what we unrolled, this
is the flag of the country of your final
surrender—it is your voice
(which can carry) spread out
and fastened to the ground to trouble
the air in a language that fills in all
the blanks between us. Language
wafting molecules to the nostrils—
language riding light to the back
of the eye. Now a whippoorwill starts
up an ether of apple-rot. Now a bullfrog
croaks vertigo (wobbling on the boat’s
bow). Now a red fox lopes the blood-
iron-flesh of fresh liver from the treeline.
Now a cricket heats the scar where you
tore my ankle with the barb of a gig.
When the cicadas stop singing,
the mountaintop will already be crimson-
gold and the immense falling, scattering
and gathering of autumn will come
peeling slowly down the fissured slopes
until we are forced in by the bare bite
of the wind. We know that buds, in time,
will climb up bursting—winching up
slightly each day until they reach the ridge.
How nice to think that this unrolling
blossoming does not stop there,
but climbs beyond the peak into the air
toward a precipice we cannot see.
As long as the cicadas are singing, let us
stay here—jar flies you would call them.
You tied the end of a thread to the leg
of one caught, and the other end
to my forefinger. We ran in the field
tethered that way—me on the ground
and the insect flying above.