Dimitra Harvey’s ‘Cicadas’

Spring unrolled skies like runners of pink muslin, breezes
steeped in honeycomb. Set out flowers in pastry
blues and glacé reds; summer simmered at the season’s
edge, began to smoke. That’s when I found their shells
everywhere — like pods of blown sugar, trimmed
to the trunks of bloodwoods, blue gums.

Yolk light streaked tower windows. Down Dixon Street,
the grills hissed, spitting oil. Plane trees offered their leaves
to the pavement in helpings of ginger and oxblood. I watched
strangers champ down fists of minced squid, or tighten
the nooses of their scarves, as lanterns swung
like pomelos from the eaves of tea rooms, and the dusk
slung up its meathook moon. This was Chinatown
on a Friday night — the markets packed. The scent of burning sugar
lured me from my mother to a stall where toffee
oozed in an iron pot. A woman was rolling
a knot of it to a worm. She jutted one end in her mouth
and blew; and as the sugar ballooned, she began
pinching and pulling it, shaping wings, a square
jaw, a long torso coiling round itself — all the while
filling it with her breath as if creation were a kind of
mouth to mouth — then she took the end from her lips
and tweaked it shut. Deft as a doctor’s
stitch she embedded a skewer, tilted the dragon
towards light so it shimmered, copper-bronze.
I watched as she made a horse, a rat — my tongue watering,
even though I knew they were not for eating.

Now rummaging at weeds on my knees
in the veggie beds, my fingers scrape the crisp
toffee abdomens of cicada shells. I press aside
drooping leaves of eggplants — the fat fruits,
black as hearses, nodding, glinting offhandedly.
I pull oxalis, dandelion from their roots. Throw
the first in a pile for the worms, heap
the latter by my knee for later:

Stir eggs and dill, diced shallots, grated feta and kefalograviera
until combined. Add a dash of olive oil, salt. Fold-in diced
chard and the wild greens you pulled from the hedgerow, the side
of the road — like the peasant grandmother who lived through famine
and three wars, raised twenty children, and knew that everywhere
the earth makes offerings of nourishment. Line your cooking tin
with pastry thin and pale as a cotton shroud. Anoint with olive oil. Now
spoon the mixture evenly across your tray and cover with more pastry.
Puncture the top with a fork or skewer — so steam — like the soul
through the mouth at death — can escape. Cook till golden.

For weeks, the air throbbed with their love songs, their
jackhammer dirges, as they bred and died, became banquet
for lizard and bird. I’ve imagined that moment of revelation:
seventeen years tucked in the dirt, sucking root sap, then —
the sudden insistent urge to burrow up and out… Exposed
to light and the swiftness of air for the first time, the old self
ruptures, peeling back — wings unfurl, silent
gossamer. Sometimes I find one, the shell
not entirely sloughed, the crisp, veined wings only
partly unfolded. My eyes track the conveyor belts
of ants: they till the corpse, ferry
morsels to the nest.

I ready the ground for sowing. Swing the mattock round again,
tear up another sod. A butcherbird probes the edges of opened
earth and plucks up worms purple-red as sopressa. Skinks
tongue crickets by the irrigation runnels. A kookaburra drops
from the shed then wings north — a marsh snake thrashing
in its beak. Above rotted orange peels, celery tufts, the skins
of pumpkins heaped on the compost — fruit flies hover like tossed
confetti. Westering now, the sun spills her brandy down
the hills; mosquitoes bore for my veins’ hard liquor.