Tuned to Cicadas, by David Chorlton

Along the route we take to see
summer’s last cuckoo
a radio keeps company with the miles
of open country. There’s conflict
on the interstate, and arms
are being sold in all directions
even on the country road
that runs through hills made green
by August rains. The clouds today
are decoration, glowing at their edges
as they float without a care
that one country’s murderers
masquerade as a security force
and their trial has been staged to reassure
the people that they’re safe.
Ocotillo brush against
the sky, there’s a dip and a rise before
news of xenophobia
translated into yet
another language, and it makes us as sad
to hear it as glad somebody cares
enough to send reporters
to places that ceased
to be anyone’s home. Finally the trail
begins, away from traffic,
winding between mesquite
and Arizona sycamore
in dappled shade, vibrating
with the rattle from cicadas to a shrill
crescendo followed by
a sudden stop. There’s a woodpecker tap
in the quiet they leave
behind, and a towhee’s plaintive
note rising from
a rustle in the undergrowth.  Not a sound
can reach here from the war games
being played while half
a continent from them the real thing
continues every day.
She could be anywhere, the high limbs
or eye level, no longer calling now
the breeding season passed
and her work
is all preparing for migration. The body
is slender, the underbelly elegant,
and the tail won’t be mistaken
for any other bird’s. Another wave
of sound breaks from the cicadas, and it takes
only seconds for the years
to part and let the memory through
of seeing one the first time.
Then a long shape glides
in and out of sunlight, and takes hold
of the world by a slim branch
on an ash tree. And the cicadas send
another wave through the warm afternoon
of stained glass singing,
the kind of loud that’s peaceful.


David Chorlton is a transplanted European, who has lived in Phoenix since 1978. His poems have appeared in many publications online and in print, and often reflect his affection for the natural world, as well as occasional bewilderment at aspects of human behavior. A recent collection of poems is Bird on a Wire from Presa Press, and The Bitter Oleander Press published Shatter the Bell in my Ear, his translations of poems by Austrian poet Christine Lavant. A new book, Reading T. S. Eliot to a Bird, is out from Hoot ‘n Waddle, based in Phoenix.

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