Cicadas

Honorable Mention

Gentle Reader: a glint from the sidewalk catches your eye: it's the wing of a cicada; you see the other wing; and a portion of the abdomen; a tail segment as hollow as a fuselage; and, at last, the severed head: but upon assembling these pieces, you discover that they belong to not one, but to at least three cicadas . . .


semi

She was not bothered by her brother, Kenji. Kenji played with his Supercar cards. He was not bothered by his sister, Yoshiko. Yoshiko drew cartoons. An invisible line divided their table. No one was allowed to cross the line. Invisible lines are the worst.

The semi, the cicada, was getting somewhere. One of its wings had broken through. Soon, it would emerge and there would be only the hull of a cicada on the curtain.

Yoshiko drew a baby girl. The baby girl was sitting quietly, doing nothing. Her thighs resembled puffs of smoke. The drawing of the baby girl was identical to the drawing before it, except this baby girl's eyes had shifted slightly toward the top right corner of the page. When the eyes of the baby girl reached the corner of the page, Yoshiko would bind the drawings together with a string woven from hairs collected in her mother's sink.

The mother entered the den. "Your semi," said the mother. The cicada had slipped out and stood apart from its shell. It was a shiny, wet, brilliantly green cicada made of glass.

The mother's face bore such a resemblance to Yoshiko's own face that it presented Yoshiko with a problem: I'm not ten and I already look like my mother. Who will I look like when I'm thirty?

"What a beautiful face," said the mother. Yoshiko smelled fish. The mother was leaning close to indicate something on the drawing. She is a seal pretending to be a human mother.

"The hands are good," said the mother. Yoshiko cleared her throat, Kenji made the sound of a Supercar, and the mother went away. She is a performing seal.

The mother could be heard chopping in the kitchen. Chop, chop, chop went the knife on the board. By the nearly silent slicing that followed, Yoshiko knew they would be having broth tonite with thin strips of shrimp.

Yoshiko scrubbed off the arms of the baby girl with her eraser. She drew in new arms with hooks like a cicada.

The actual insect was still judging its capacities on the curtain. It wobbled, fell from the curtain, began crawling as if gathering insight into gravity. The Kinks came on the radio.

"They're talking about something scary," said Yoshiko. "You can't understand what they're saying," Kenji said. "Turn on the tape recorder," said Yoshiko. But the brother was watching his sister gathering steam, waiting.

"You'll miss it!" cried Yoshiko. Kenji switched on the tape recorder. The Kinks were singing: you really got me, you really got me, you really got me . . .

"See?" said Yoshilo: "They keep saying yurei." (Yurei is the Japanese word for 'ghost.')

Kenji switched off the tape recorder before the song ended. "I'll play something scary," he said, rummaging through his pile of tapes on the table.

Yoshiko was thinking so rapidly that the words clotted in the roof of her mouth. One line of thought concluded with, I'm happy you are stupid, and another, I hope you never find your tape. But, in reality, Yoshiko said nothing. Now her brother was the one gathering steam.

"What have you done with my tape?" he asked, looking up from his side of the table. Everything that followed was guaranteed.

In the eyes of her brother, the tape was missing because Yoshiko had misplaced it. This was the decision Kenji had reached. After a certain period of time, after Yoshiko would not produce the missing tape, the brother punched his sister in the unprotected place beneath her breastbone. Yoshiko zigzagged backward like a crab and fell on her bottom. The objects in the room wavered in relation to the wall. She looked with one eye at Kenji and saw him turn away with a wave of his hand. Yoshiko switched to the other eye and saw her brother picking through his pile of tapes on the table. Then both her eyes combined and composed a view of Kenji discovering the missing tape at just the moment the cicada had arrived at his feet.

"I found it!" said Kenji. Yoshiko squinted her eyes but still she saw her brother spin around and squash the insect. "The semi!" cried Kenji.

The mother entered with a bowl of soup and a bowl of rice. She set the bowls on the table and flicked on the florescent light overhead. She examined the insect politely and left the room. The mother returned with a whisk-broom and a dust pan. She swept up the cicada while the children cleared the table.

During dinner, Yoshiko's brother forgot what he was angry about. In other words, he was angry but held no grudge. The television came on in the apartment above. "Our show," said the mother. Kenji went over, switched on the television and turned to the channel with the program Ha Chi Ji Da Yo, Zei In Syo Go! ("It's Eight O'clock, Everybody Gather!").

Soon, the father would be home from work. Yoshiko drank off the last of her broth and took her bowl into the kitchen. She noticed the dismembered insect in the trash. With her chopsticks, she removed the uneaten shrimp slices from the bowl and laid them discretely over the cicada. This was my first experience of intentional murder.


el supremo

She had been serenading El Supremo all afternoon with the rondo movement of Mozart's piano concerto 386: but the insect was not responding inside his translucent sleeve: Why not rub against your skin and break free, she thought, or soon you will grow poor and thin.

She removed the lid and laid the coffee can on its side: now the street let out the last terrible cries of the day: now the evening breathed the day's exhaust: a breeze filled the curtains: the light of a dozen candles in their holders trembled: Blessings to those who wait, she thought, until the instant before death implants its oval egg.

The stereo which had played so flawlessly all day skipped and played on unreliably: she went over and turned off the CD player: she stood facing the coffee can on the counter: she stood glued to the spot with all her weight: she stood inside a transparent bubble of bliss: she was whistling, cajoling, calling to the cicada: Bring me a vision, she thought.

But he made no movement on his bed of powder ground from the finest substances in her yard: she gently shook El Supremo from the can: she plucked him from the counter: she placed him on her tongue.

She knew, of course, that the insect had reached the moment of life or death: she knew that the decision to remain in the shell produced a subtly weaker charge than the decision to emerge into the unknown: she was familiar with the full range of flavors resulting from these 'decisions': We are in the opposite relation to you animals, she thought: now we sustain you: humans alone can cause the significant creatures to survive.

She could feel the cicada humming in his sack: My mouth has reminded him of death, she thought: El Supremo was secreting juices in the tissues of his shell: these juices, mixing with the juices in her mouth, opened the iron grate of the mind: in flew the skeleton of El Supremo: his skull possessed the holes of eyes through which visions could be seen: the visions of eons of cicadas: The cicadas leave a helical wake in space, she thought, remarkably more true than the bee, the ant, the wasp, the worm, the grasshopper.

Now she herself was enclosed in the flight of a cicada: Their lives are so chaotic, she thought, and the seasons so brief: a storm or a mountain was approaching: the cicadas turned white fleeing before the wind or time: the wind swept in a cloud of cicadas that did not beat their wings or their deaths: the bedrock rolled over the tumbling hills: cavities, arches, gulfs, opened beneath El Supremo: darkness subdued all color.

Here, she thought, let me light a candle and show him what the darkness contains: roots were descending from the dome of her skull: on the tip of each root, a droplet hung pendant, brilliant in the light: The last stop for all sadness on earth, she thought: she brushed the tongue of her mind across the droplets: This drop contains the hint of a growth on the body that beats independently, she thought: and here I taste the drone longing for a mate: and this one is so bitter it chokes me: it consists of many sadnesses concentrated into a single flavor diffused by time itself: an old, old taste: sulfur left behind by putrefaction.

The droplets were innumerable and only one conclusion could be reached: We will meet again, she thought: in that nation where all the species go to remove their disguises: the human nation just like the deer nation, the tobacco nation, the cicada nation: the countless nations where souls circulate on the side of the dark, the forgotten, the cold.

She opened her mouth wide: now El Supremo was awake on her tongue: his body was animated with fear: he feared the light entering her mouth: the body of El Supremo was a pure expression of fear crawling toward the back of her throat: No, she thought: the work is never ended.

She leaned over the sink and made a cack: she coughed a dry heave and expelled the cicada from her throat: the insect squirmed in a pool of liquid: I will recognize you, she thought: these protrusions and indentations will be hardly visible with our costumes gone: but our essences, traces, perhaps, of our former physical selves, will correspond.

She scooped El Supremo into her palm without incident: she opened the screen door: she carried the cicada to the porch rail: she threw the insect toward the evening where the clouds swung like feathers in the air: We will remember meeting before, she thought: we'll see then how we linger on that other side, embraced, mixing, merged at the brink of day, watching the sky crash down on the earth continuously, crushing birds that pass between two worlds.


the drinkers

of how forces are distributed; the following passage expresses a drinker's belief in her leadership role in contacting the other world:

[Kyzlasov inquired, "How did you become a 'priestess' among the drinkers?"] First of all, I drink the most, so I see the farthest. I am not distracted by the whirlwind. Nor by the smell of false sicknesses. I have reached the tree at the end of the plain. I carved my symbol in its bark. There is no disagreement between the symbols I saw there and the symbols of the priestesses who reached the tree before me. I am a real drinker, I don't speak to anyone without receiving cough syrup first. I drink whatever they have.9

The subject's remarks are consistent with disassociative patterns attributed to long-term Dextra-Methorphan abuse. Her role as seer is emphasized here, but it is not uncommon, for instance, to encounter two or more 'priestesses' in the same circle of drinkers; the hierarchy among members, however, will not be discussed from the point of view of special abilities or powers possessed by priestesses, but rather from the point of view of the structure of language priestesshood alludes to; with priestesses we find spoken not only the subcode of (drinkers') language considered in the second part of our study, but also the supercode of language which priestesses impose on objects. For the sake of simplicity, we shall analyze relatively simple models, the cicada, for instance, which itself is already a matrix of signification.10

For the purposes of our survey, the salient feature of the cicada is that the priestess-candidate verifies her 'never-cured' (possessed) status by imitating the insect's behavior (albeit, through poorly understood means). Mooney recorded the following rite-of-passage.

She [the candidate] asked for a cup of water. She emptied the cup by drawing the water up through her right index finger, or 'telescope' [i.e., a drinker euphemism for the straw-like appendage issuing from the cicada's mouth]. She then refilled the cup by releasing the water out of her left index finger [or, 'hollow bone,' the reproductive organ of the cicada].

Thus, the candidate confirmed her vocation before an audience of priestesses; but consider the account she gave of her performance to the 'teacher' of the group.

I was on the verge of melting when a cicada asked me to stop beneath this tree. Two other cicadas came near, then more arrived, and pretty soon I had cicadas crawling all over me. They were singing and sucking poison out of my trunk. After what they swallowed had killed the last cicada, I found myself with you again.11

We note that a slippage of meaning has occurred between the physical and verbal texts (we use the term 'text' because, in both instances, a reading takes place: an audience reads a performance); and this difference marks an important point of departure into the unconscious, unlanguaged field which we have called supercode; the connotation of the candidate's acts remains, literally, hidden.

It would be instructive to recall that, for the drinkers, Reality is maintained by forces of compression: e.g., you and I note what is allowed; we order useful phenomena; we record effects without identifying the cause; and, then, from these effects we derive our proofs: thus, in step-fashion, our society evolves its rules into Truth.

But for a drinker penetrated by euphoria, the burden of reference shared by the mass of language users loses its social and emotional support; the subversion of reality and its image seems more manageable, more tenable; though priestesses do not explicitly participate in weakening or obscuring existing language structures, we can see that linguistically (metaphorically), the social project of the drinkers is one of opposition: of

___________

9Cf. V.M. Kyzlasov, The Magico-Religious Belief of the Drinking Peoples, p. 113.

10For example, K. Ohnuki differentiates cicadas that are invisible to birds with cicadas that merely hide, cicadas dissected for precious stones, cicadas that are manufactured, surveillance cicadas, etc. ("Techniques of Thunder," in American Museum of Natural History Anthropological Reports, March, 2001).

11Cf. L.P. Mooney, TeEbEpNo'z, Priestess and Succubus, pp. 315-43.

A note to friends of the author: So these fragments form a unity, which is itself only an idea of something we have labeled, 'cicada.' And the real cicada (the /cicada/)? It lives on a branch outside your window . . .

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