Above Ground

A poem by Clint Smith

By Clint Smith

December 25, 2022

For weeks, we can't go outside without the cicada's
song wrapping itself around the three of us like a quilt.
The tree in our front yard has become their sanctuary,
a place where they all seem to congregate

and sing their first and final songs.
We get closer, and see the way their exoskeletons
ornament the bark like golden ghosts,
shadows abandoned by their bodies

searching for new life.
One of you is four years old. One of you is two.
The next time the cicadas rise out of the earth
you will be twenty-one and nineteen.

I think of how much might change between these cycles.
How much of our planet will still be intact?
What sort of societies will the cicadas return to
when they next make their way up from the earth?

When they first arrive, you are both frightened
of this new noise that hangs in the air,
of these small orange-and-black-winged bodies
that fall from the sky like new rain.

They don't bite, I say.
But neither of you believe me.
So I reach out to one of the branches
and allow one of the orange-eyed creatures to climb

onto my finger. You both watch it roam around my hand
as it becomes familiar with the flesh of my palm,
your eyes widening at the revelation that this infrequent
visitor has no interest in piercing my skin.

And maybe that is enough, because now
you both try to pick up cicadas from the ground
and collect them in buckets as if they are treasure.
And maybe they are.

Maybe treasure is in what dies almost
as quickly as it rises from the earth.
Maybe treasure is anything that reminds you
what a miracle it is to be alive.