Snug as a bug in a rug: cicada-inspired poetry


Brood II cicadas dangle from a pine tree on May 31 in Lake Ridge, Va. (Amanda Voisard/The Washington Post)
John Kelly
Columnist June 4, 2013

Cicadas. In many Asian cultures, they are celebrated in art and poetry. The insect’s brief, frenzied existence seems to perfectly symbolize . . . what, exactly?

Well, take your pick: the triumph of perseverance, the drive to find love and procreate, the fleeting nature of life, the fact that not everything tastes like chicken.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

I asked readers to take inspiration from the cicadas of Brood II — currently appearing from about Manassas south — and compose poetry. Here are some of my favorite creations. (Add your own in the Comments section of my column online: washingtonpost.com/­ ­­­­­­­­­­john­­kelly .)

I like the simplicity of “A Cicada’s Life” by Alan Rubin of Delaplane:

Seventeen years of peaceful dreaming,

Followed by a week of screaming.

This cautionary couplet from Potomac’s Ginny Evans is just as straightforward:

If life gives you a cicada

Please do not make lemonada.

While we’re being short and sweet:

Crunching underfoot,

Carapaces put rhythm

To cicadas’ song.

Lisa Goenner, Bethesda

my stout welsh corgi

snout-deep in cicada treats

ignores my husband

Roberta Beary, Bethesda

The cicada sings on summer wings

A song of love’s elation.

The music brings, with other things,

Seventeen years’ gestation.

Bill Osborn, Alexandria

You can’t have a poetry contest without a limerick. Here’s one from Peyton Coyner of Afton, Va.:

Insectophobes have a loud shtick:

They bug us, they cry and they kick.

Their ID? Their sign?

An irrational whine.

It’s not just the ’cadas who’re sick.

Not all the poets were jokers. Sally Zakariya of Arlington went deep, so to speak:

What calendar is there beneath the soil

Its days crossed darkly off year after year?

What dreams of sun?

What longing for the other to complete it

Until by some mystery it wakes and struggles upward

Emerging at last, shedding the stiff brown nightshirt

Big eyed and bumbling, dazzled by light and air

New to wings and the freedom of flight

Its stuttering song a proof of life

after so long a silence.

I’d love to have been a fly on the wall for the episode that Fairfax’s William Brooks sketches in “Insect Etiquette”:

Don’t really know her, though I see her a lot.

We ride the same bus; get off the same spot.

Today something’s different; in a delicate place

A tiny hitchhiker who’s taking up space

Where she’ll never see it; she hasn’t a clue.

A gentleman’s quandary; whatever to do?

Would it be proper if I gave it a swat?

I’m sure that the answer is, “No it is not!”

I summoned my nerve; approached her quite slowly

And whispered my message softly and lowly.

“T’would be a good moment to brush your backside;

You have a cicada who’s ‘bumming’ a ride.”

S.M. Kahn wrote a story of an entirely different sort. It’s called “Keeping the Peace, a la Cicada”:

In the ground, then up a tree

and now they’re in the freezer.

I cook them up for my wife

a gourmet treat to please her.

She takes her plate, her eyes roll back

as if to have a seizure,

So hers I eat (with catsup on)

And pray it does appease her.

I also make another meal

A salad dressed with Caesar,

“Thanks,” says wife. “You are the best,”

and kisses this old geezer.

I’ll close with this historical haiku from Steve Lamar of Fairfax:

Brood II cicadas

Finally learn the results:

Clinton beat Bob Dole

I’ll have lots more cicada verse in Thursday’s column.

Food for thought

Evynn Blaher’s Woodbridge house backs up to woods, home to multiple squirrels. Each morning, Evynn puts an ear of dried corn out on the deck. By the time she gets home after work, every kernel is gone. “I’ve noticed in the last week that I can keep the same ear of corn out for two or three days, and I rarely see a squirrel,” she wrote.

There are plenty of cicadas in the woods. “So, if squirrels eat cicadas, I know there’s an abundant supply,” Evynn wrote. “Could you shed some light on this?”

I consulted Smithsonian squirrel expert Richard Thorington. He e-mailed back : “I have never seen squirrels eating cicadas, but it seems highly unlikely that they would pass up such a luscious morsel. I think that you are correct that the squirrels prefer them to ears of corn.”

Peter D. Marshall of Martinsville, Va., reported that something similar is going on in his back yard. “I’ve noticed that the birds have been ignoring the suet cakes hanging out ever since the cicadas arrived,” Peter wrote.

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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