Blue skies, pink cherry trees, yellow and red tulips, new-green leaves. As your correspondent from Brooklyn I report that all this color is exploding on the usual grey of asphalt and slate, dark blush of brick and brick-shade paint.
In a matter of days the magical Magicicadas will be here. These are the 17 year cicadas – who we haven’t seen since “the Macarena” was the top of the pops – and they will be creeping out of the ground in the millions on the East Coast, sometimes 1.5 million an acre. The nymphs crawling out of the dirt has been described as looking like boiling water. The males soon start singing for sex and hit an incredible 100 dB, deafening with desire, and the lady bugs flit their wings to them to come hither; then mostly lay their eggs in the sweetly named “chorus trees” where all that sound is singing like a torch of noise. Branches bow with the weight of the fertilized nests. Then within two months (by early July) the adults are all dead and the kids are back underground to suck the sweet sap of tree roots and wait until 2030 to emerge and buzz at us again.
All this puts me in the mind of a great poem by Jennifer L. Knox whose brilliant books are Drunk by Noon, The Mystery of the Hidden Driveway, and A Gringo Like Me. The poem has nothing to do with cicadas, but it is about the magic of listening with your eyes, and brains.
Babies in Silent Movies
How’d they make it cry so loud?
You know under the ragtime roll’s
a wail that’d peel paint, can see
the blond brows crimped like claws
under the gingham bonnet, cheeks
red hot despite spectrumlessness.
Maybe a lackey’s pinching its thigh
beneath the table. A good mother’d
shrug off the short pricks of pain one
outgrows to keep a kid back then that fat.
- Jennifer L. Knox
Quiet yelling and black-and-white red. I love the rhythm of this, “the blond brows crimped like claws” – it just tumbles along at a double-quick. Behind it there’s this mother making a hard calculation to pinch the baby rich, or rich enough eat, anyway.
She’s right to call the mother good, too, despite the obvious argument against it. Who among us doesn’t have to goose ourself into doing what’s good for us? What would we do without literature to remind us that no one escapes these dear-inflicted pinches? A lot goes on under the table, or out of range of sound and color. It takes so much imagination to know we’re not alone. I try hard to remember on my own, but art is always surprising me with the sound I can’t hear, the shades I can’t see, the unknowable pain of others. And like I say, I’m really trying! Well, I’m awake again now. Here’s hoping it lasts.
Don’t kill yourself and I shall return to encourage you again.