- identification/ identificationi
Species, Seventeen Year: Cassini, Septendecula
Common Name: Seventeen-Year Locust
When they saw the Magicicada splitting the earth, the people were afraid the locusts were coming, that the plague of the apocalypse was here.
But there was never a first wave, never a first summer, never a first for the cicadas. If there was, who among the people could remember?
Biblical scholars found the plague of Exodus to be not locusts but a fresh swarm of cicadas, clawing themselves from the dirt after 17 years of darkness, coming up in sheets, or currents, or like blankets falling on the crops.
The research that could confirm the assumption is too exhausting, after all those years of religious education.
It does not matter. They are magos, they are magic.
That they will die soon matters even less. There are too many to miss what the predators take; always, there are enough left over.
The females that survive cut slits into bark, slide hundreds of eggs inside. The people call the slots "laying scars." [End Page 89]
When they hatch, the nymphs pull their fragile, milky bodies from the wood, drop to the ground, burrow, feed on root juice.
Seventeen years later they tunnel to the surface, attach their bodies to nearby plants, molt, emerge as adults. It looks like something vomiting, the pulling back of the shell like a mouth, or what vomiting looks like in a comic. The skins cling to the bark as the cicadas climb higher. They have weeks above ground until it is over.
The people notice the birds before the bugs, swooping in to snatch the armored heads pushing through the soil. I was born during, in the center of, a major coming, mid-summer 1987.
Species, Thirteen Year: Tredcim, Neotredecim, Tredecula
Last year, the year of two springs, when the Mediterranean rained and flowered and dropped and greened—then an airplane, and the Midwest rained and flowered and dropped and greened—I thought mostly of the cicada summer, the first one I remembered.
I called it the dying summer. I told my mother, this is the summer that everything is dying.
Apollo knew what I did not: the cicada is a symbol of resurrection, rebirth, immortality. The ground was covered not by carcasses but simple shells, shed by the grown bugs.
They will not show themselves clearly, pulling their bodies from the dirt. Rather, they will surface outside your knowing, outside your knowing that there are suddenly billions more living above ground.
I saw only what they shed. I used a fishing net to sift them out of my plastic pool. [End Page 90] It is not summer anymore. It is that time of year when memories of childhood feel sticky to dry days.
Zeno, the seven-year-old son of my Italian hosts, showed me his collection of cicada shells. To ensure their safety, he held them in his hands through the eight-hour flight from Chicago the summer before. They sat on the fireplace mantel on a bed of rocks he gathered from lago di Como.
In the winter his father lit the fireplace, and the stones would heat and cook the casings. They cracked and fell to the tile below.
At the end of each summer, I loved to pick off the dead, splitting skin from the bottom of my feet. I dreamed of, imagined being able to, like the cicada, peel all of—
At the end of each summer, I stood before the mirror and thought it was time to pull off the freckles to mark the end.
Yet each night I needed to be wrapped: wool socks, flannel pants, sweatshirt, fleece robe, two quilts. I wanted to peel first and cover second.
While hiking in Honduras, I felt them eat as I stood beneath the foliage. The cicadas pierced the stems and the trees began to mist their sugar water, [End Page 91] landing in tiny pools on my neck and shoulders. It is called sweet rain, but I didn't know this then.
Some Septembers, I try...