The Washington Post

Consider the cicada. Hundreds of readers did. Now, our poetry contest comes to a close.

- John Kelly's Washington  For previous columns, visit washington­post.com/john-kelly. john.kelly@washpost.com Twitter: @johnkelly

I confess I have a fondness for the light over the heavy. It’s easier for me to pick a funny poem about cicadas than a serious one. You’ll find a few funny ones below, but as I wrap up my cicada poetry contest, I’ve focused on those that are more than a punchline.

Thank you to all the readers who entered. See you in 17 years?

It was not the clinging husk — translucen­t as horn, a nymphal form

preserved in vacancy and perched on the cusp

of a yellow rose — that startled me

rather, the rattling hum in the trees, sinuous, a rill like a snake of beads and instantly: late summers when I was seventeen or younger still —

a dog-day Texas sound, leavened from the searing

pavement in shimmers of heat that bent the air

and cracked the ground, where I, too, learned to desperatel­y shed

a skin, brown as some other place, and emerge,

naked, teeming with the need to merge with the vast,

whirring herd, heady, on vitreous wings. And yet,

here, where the present is a new country,

what buried memory broods its progeny?

— Shangrila Willy, Baltimore

Patient, unmoving, I waited for a sign.

I lay deep in the earth. I dreamed I might

Be free. I yearned to find a god benign:

‘Unbind my soul and lead me to the light.’

Without fanfare the sign, the warmth, arrived

That would allow my longawaite­d move.

I left darkness behind for life. I strived

In hope to reach the blinding light above.

Alive and in the open air, I learn

There is now but a single path. I sing,

Shining in my carapace. I yearn,

Committed to the one essential fling.

And then: despair. ‘That’s it?’ I, empty, cry.

I longed for meaning, not just to breed and die.

— Lawrence Plotkin, Fairfax County

Cicada swarms

Like fire alarms Without the fire —

Are just suppressed desire. — Mike Mcnamara, Springfiel­d

The cicada’s job: to remind us of life’s impermanen­ce. Everywhere they leave clues:

small holes pocking the soil, translucen­t exoskeleto­ns like land-lobsters.

The cicada’s job: to remind us

for one loud month every 17 years.

Bearing metallic sawtooth news,

everywhere they leave clues.

In the first century, Meleager of Gadara

wrote, its ‘rustic song sounds in lonely places.’

The cicada’s job: to remind us

of our vulnerabil­ity. This month we emerge

into brooding streets, mouths unmasked. Everywhere they leave clues. That’s the cicada’s job: to remind us.

— Kim Roberts, Washington

so much depends upon

a red-eyed cicada

on a white peony

beside a blue mask

— Katie Peterson, Vienna, Va.

Cicadas are quite musical blokes

Who carry their instrument­s with ’em.

They drone their song high up in the oaks

In perfect cicadian rhythm.

— Dave Jenkins, Arlington

“Locusts,” the elders told us. We knew nothing of “cicadas.”

Grade schooler me — not scared as they dived.

Onion wings and spindly feet probed the grass and the flowers and the headstones

at Resurrecti­on Cemetery outside Chicago — famously haunted, as memories haunt.

— Shirley Nuhn, Oakton

He whistled at her — not a whistle exactly, not the sound she expected, more a low buzz, but insistent. After seventeen years undergroun­d

he was ready for action and actively looking, with bloodshot eyes. She’d heard noises so many times as she walked, but not from the pavement below, at her feet,

where she had the power to step and to end this. Should she?

No, for she wasn’t the target, being followed, sweaty with terror.

By his papery, delicate wings she lifted him out of harm’s way — a place she never had been.

— Margaret D. Stetz, Wilmington, Del. the cicadas crawl out from graves to sing of immortalit­y shedding golden skins

that scatter en masse in perfect gardens like strange flower petals

dropping at the feet of brides in white weeping for the loss of their perfect day

claimed by veiled winged bugs in incessant whining trill fulfilling their vows of nature’s destiny to love and die in brooding eternity

— Elizabeth Mccarthy, Walden, Vt.

After long evenings of nothing but talk,

we meet the clear curve, the arched emptiness

of completion. What one can do to another.

Are far away temples ripe with it?

Here in suburbia we are hot from their strumming,

the sung necessity of changing flesh.

In the morning the hard husks still grip the trees, but their bodies are gone. How ashamed we are to still be here.

Look, sprinkled like glass across the lawn, at what passion we missed: to kiss just once, then die.

— Sibbie O’sullivan, Wheaton

Seventeen years I sheltered in place,

safely masked by my own carapace.

Word arrived: the restrictio­ns were over.

I emerged to the sunlight and clover.

My purpose in life was to mate me.

I sang for a female to date me. My song made the neighborho­od hate me,

and then came a squirrel — and ate me.

— Anita Susi, Derwood

they have sipped sugars in the dark for 17 years —

syrup from maples, early bourbon from the oaks —

while we mere mortals have idled in our own ways since 2004, since 1987, 1970, 1953 … what have been our candied tree roots? what now our daylight?

— Dustin Renwick, Washington

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 ?? CAROLYN KASTER/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? A Brood X cicada hangs on a leaf in the District. John Kelly is wrapping up his cicada poetry contest with some funny and some profound sentiments.
CAROLYN KASTER/ASSOCIATED PRESS A Brood X cicada hangs on a leaf in the District. John Kelly is wrapping up his cicada poetry contest with some funny and some profound sentiments.
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