Poetry / June 2017 (Issue 36: Writing Japan)


by Michael O'Sullivan

At the end of July the cicadas begin dying in Japan—
Their bodies line the entrances to apartment buildings
And the concrete stairwells inside.
They lie on their backs, their wings straight like cloaks behind them,
Their white, fleshy underbellies drying
As lines of tiny insects carry away what the breeze leaves behind.
Their bodies are gone after two days,
Even as their living brothers and sisters
Keep to the vigil of unrelenting, rasping, vocal heartbeats.

The cicada lies in my entrance like an entombed Nosferatu,
Its antennae, arms and legs curled symmetrically above its torso,
And its wizened face crusting and drying in the early morning sun.
I try to avoid stepping on him as I bring out the last of my belongings
To be collected by the council recycling scheme.

I am dying myself in Japan-
Every day I take a little bit more of my Japanese life to the recyclers.
It is not as cathartic as I expect it to be;
I am a little angry when I find a table or a pan missing from my recycling pile,
Slim pickings for the eager scavenger of the dumps.
I see some connection between the cicadas and me;
As I trundle down the stairs with the last of my hangers, pots and empty toiletry cans,
A doddery cicada flies past into a wire fence that leads to a dead end.

It is the beginning of the end for him.
I have seen it before.
He will intermittently buzz and flap to no avail before he too
Takes up the noble, reclining death stare of those who have passed before.
Before he flies into the fencing for the last time, I see a flash of gold from his underbelly
in the early morning sun and I recognize his unwillingness to give up the fight.

At least I am only dying to my Japanese life.
Life will begin again somewhere else for me.
I need not worry about the belongings I try not to part with
Since soon, like the cicada, I will stumble into my surroundings for the last time,
Resisting the embarrassment of dying a public death,
Desperately flying for the seclusion of a back alley
Or a darkened concrete stairwell
So I can turn myself over with the last of my energy
Just after the sun has cast its last illuminating rays on my body,
Showing up the life that is slow to give,
Turning myself over onto my back
And resting and waiting while the hordes and swarms of brothers and sisters
Keep up the good fight and sing and hiss me to my end.
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