American Life in Poetry: Column 024

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

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 memorable.

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
titanium;
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
museum —

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.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Reprinted from "Small Human Detail in Care of National Trust," New Issues Press, Western Michigan University, 2000, by permission of the author. Poem copyright © by Martin Walls, a 2005 Wytter Bynner Fellow of the Library of Congress. His latest collection "Commonwealth" is available from March Street Press. Introduction copyright © 2016 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.