By on Sep 24, 2010 in Cuttings

It was the new neighbors that made me plug my ears. They did it with crow’s caws and popgun bangs; with doors and cupboards; with heedless laughter that woke me but not my wife, and left me envious in the dark.

Once awake, I’d roll back old stones and peer at the grubs and worms of memory and conscience. The hours spent hunting sadness passed quickly. Now the earplugs take up what is in my head and show it to the morning, adhesive and greedy for dust. They grow dingy gray and yellow from use. I cannot bring myself to wash them.

The earplugs keep the neighbors out. But they do not bring silence. Rather they subtract all other sounds and leave cicadas buzzing. It is a burning, bright sound: the sound of poplars and asphalt, clouded with ochre dust frosting, a sepia rash on the skin of the world. It is the sound of past life.

You’d never see the cicadas living, not then. You’d hear their endless cyclone song — you couldn’t not hear it. Past the pond, clotted with poplar leaves rinsed clean of dust. Past the anarchic copse, along hot walls, into the only road that went anywhere. The cicadas bored a tunnel through summer. 

It was only in death and dying that they appeared and dropped in the dust. Their bodies of thick and shiny meringue were insubstantial, easy to crush. But the cicadas’ stiff prism wings were strong and brittle. You could hold them and watch the last, silent stretches. Now the cicadas wake me to solitary pre-dawn contemplation. They are closer than the neighbors, and earplugs cannot mute them. 

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Charles Sanft is from Minnesota and currently lives in Muenster, Germany. His articles have appeared in Early China, Asia Major, and other scholarly journals.