American Life in Poetry: Column 024


In this poem by New York poet Martin Walls, a common
insect is described and made vivid for us through a
number of fresh and engaging comparisons. Thus an
ordinary insect becomes something remarkable and

Cicadas at the End of Summer

Whine as though a pine tree is bowing a broken violin,
As though a bandsaw cleaves a thousand thin sheets of
They chime like freight wheels on a Norfolk Southern
slowing into town.

But all you ever see is the silence.
Husks, glued to the underside of maple leaves.
With their nineteen fifties Bakelite lines they'd do
just as well hanging from the ceiling of a space

What cicadas leave behind is a kind of crystallized memory;
The stubborn detail of, the shape around a life turned

The color of forgotten things: a cold broth of tea & milk
in the bottom of a mug.
Or skin on an old tin of varnish you have to lift with
lineman's pliers.
A fly paper that hung thirty years in Bird Cooper's pantry
in Brighton.

Reprinted from "Small Human Detail in Care of National Trust,"
New Issues Press, Western Michigan University, 2000,
by permission of the author. Poem copyright (c) by Martin
Walls, a 2005 Wytter Bynner Fellow of the Library of Congress.
His latest collection "Commonwealth" is available from
March Street Press. This weekly column is supported by
The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the
Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.