Jeff Baker

 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.

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