Summer 2021 Cicadas

Ellen Steinbaum

They’re my last cicadas, though who can be sure, 
of course. Given my age and their infrequent outings,
like scheduled comets and eclipses, they could be 
penultimate, but most likely my concluding swarm. 
Every seventeen or thirteen years they come–both 
prime numbers, though I think they have a mathematics
of their own: each one’s four to six week life, the group’s 
existence for five million years, how they arrive by trillions—
harmless, loud, and food (high protein, low carb, gluten 
free) for anything that eats—with numbers as their
sole survival plan.  And despite the odds, after 
the years of quarantine, each one bursts back 
into the world with gusto and with all their hunger
and not a moment’s hesitation, unlike me.

* Writing Prompt: When the cicadas came this summer it was just when, after a year plus of quarantine shut-down, we were also having a giddy moment of re-emerging. But in contrast to the cicadas’ bursting out into their own uncertain world, I was feeling a little nervous. Maybe you were, too. Write a poem about holding back or bursting forward or simply thinking about how to react in a moment of transition.


Ellen Steinbaum is the author of four poetry collections and a one-person play. Her work has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize and appears in several anthologies including Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems, American Places and The Widows’ Handbook. An award-winning journalist and former Boston Globe columnist, she writes a blog, “Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe” which can be found at her web site, ellensteinbaum.com.