It’s June in the Georgia Piedmont—
magnolias fully in bloom, as if
someone had built trees from sheets of
dark green wax and tipped branches with
porcelain bowls of vanilla ice cream.
The blossoms push out a breeze of
fruity scent—and walking at seven AM
it smells like Coco Chanel left an
open bottle of Number Five perfume
on every front lawn.
Three miles later I walk down my
driveway to the back yard and hear
a metal rod being dragged over
rusty tin. It’s the first
cicada of the year.
Oh You Rascal Billy Collins
I was describing my two published poems about cicadas, one about Brood X which emerged in 2021, and the second, on the emergence of our local annual cicadas, a three-stanza, fifteen-line shorty, melding the piercing sucrose of magnolia flowers (grandiflora, that is) with the rusty-iron harmonies of the cicada’s song, when a gratuitous someone pointed out your instructions in the poem “The Student”—and I’m only slightly paraphrasing here—“avoid words like cicada,” which sucked my satisfaction right out the window as if it were the innocent bystander in seat 37C in the latest James Bond movie—and, ego aside—drastically shortchanges these flying noisemakers, a species originating millions of years ago, and my fingers are indenting the padded arms of my chair as I try not to fixate on how your advice is so damaging to the self-esteem of millions of cicadas—when I realize this is just a toss-off line, a poetic device, from someone who doesn’t really know cicadas, the annual from the periodic, the North American from the Antipodean (three hundred Australian species alone), and did you know that almost all “plague” cicadas, the periodic ones emerging every thirteen or seventeen years, exist only in Eastern North America, including your home state of New York? I can’t help but believe that your relationship to these cornichon to cigar-stub-sized Pleistocene relics is that of annoying August raspers, and can you possibly know that male cicadas use their tymbals to sing—I mean, how can a poet resist a word like tymbals, which, quod erat demonstrandum, must be used with the word cicada?
Now it’s true that adult cicadas really are just looking for a quick fuck—just pass those genes along and “I’m out of here,” the proverbial “wham bam thank you ma’am”—but hell, no one expects them to be able to use Tinder. And really, not to overgeneralize, but doesn’t that just make them the equivalent of at least half the human race? I know you weren’t describing subjects—just non-euphonious words—but vortex, another forbidden fruit, also is poetic brilliance to me—and if I were teaching poetry, I’d certainly advise students to stay away from liver flukes, scrofula, and the candiru catfish.
is Professor of Fisheries at University of Georgia. For 10 years he wrote the “Ask Dr. Trout” column for American Angler. His first book of poems, Lyrical Years, is forthcoming in 2023 from Aldrich Press.
In 2021 and 2022, Gary’s poetry has appeared in Verse-Virtual, Poetry Life and Times, Your Daily Poem, Poetica, Trouvaille Review, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Poetry Superhighway, Muddy River Poetry Review, The Knot, Delta Poetry Review, and Last Stanza Poetry Review; his essays were published in Alaska Magazine and American Angler; and his flash fiction, in MacQueen’s Quinterly. Hobbies include running, music, fishing, gardening, and cooking.
Author’s website: www.garygrossman.net
And his writing blog: https://garydavidgrossman.medium.com/