Year of the Cicadas, 1970

I have no memory of a warning, no
siren, no drill before they ascended—
the nymphs stumbling hungry
out of their tunnels, tapping their way
along roots in the dark.
By morning, they had unzipped them-
selves, left behind their sightless
doubles dangling from
the hooked bark of trees. Pretty
soon they were everywhere—
males in their chorus
trees strumming their
hollow boxes. Who could blame

mothers who disappeared, took
refuge at the club or screamed
all day in their slips in front of fans,
or the kids, who–left to their own
devices, decoder rings no match
for the incessant stridulation, the
constant rubbing together of body
parts–grew callous, grew used
to the sound of casings cracking
under their sneakers, until

one day they snapped, pinned me
on the playground, tried to shove one
in my mouth, to make me
“Eat it—
the way they did in the Bible.”
I flailed until I broke
loose, spittle dribbling down my chin
like some kind of sap.

For weeks, the games continued.
They made helicopters out of
them, dropkicked or flew them,
wall-eyed into each other
until the cracked stained glass of their
veiny wings shattered. I never said
a word, a thing.  But in the evenings,
I prayed, made a spectacle of it.
Days, I made notes on land-
scaping, the trees, the shrubbery
around the school, the camou-
flage of other kids, their style of
lunch boxes. Until one day it was
suddenly silent. Gone, dead or disappeared,
I never asked. Come summer’s end,
convinced I had a calling,
they sent me off to Catholic school,
reinforcing my belief
in the safety to be found in studying more
advanced forms of ventriloquism.

Desiree Hellegers affiliated faculty with the Collective for Social and Environmental Justice (CSEJ) at WSU Vancouver; director of The Thin Green Line is People History Project and a member/producer with the Old Mole Variety Hour on Portland’s KBOO Radio. Their serialized solo play “How I Learned to Breathe thru the Apocalypse” is airing on Portland’s Open Signal cable television. Their personal website isdesireehellegers.com.