Academic journal article Chicago Review

Cicadas

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Cicadas

Article excerpt

This happened in 1944, probably well into the August of summer, at least several months after the Yangtze had receded. The war must have started turning around for Chiang Kai-shek; daily, past the heavy wooden gates of our villa, endless columns of Kuomintang troops were marching towards the coast on the road parallel to the river. Breaking the monotonous clanging of their mess kits was the occasional low whirring hum of a staff car with its unit chevron, or a truck, its canvas flap concealing what was inside. But mostly there were hundreds and hundreds of soldiers moving at the same speed as the vehicles, their uniform the exact ordinary color as the road dust they stirred. Some of them didn't have rifles, and I remember my brother Will say that some of the others did not have ammunition. One or two of these faces would always be turned up toward where I was watching them from the top of the steps in front of the gates. My mother told me I had to keep the gates closed. I was five that summer, and lowered the bar on the gates as I was told.

That was also the summer I learned about cicadas and departures of another kind. Will had a highly prized bamboo stick of at least twelve or fifteen feet long, and he taught me how to catch cicadas with it. First he would show me by example, then he would stand behind me and help me as I was tested before I was on my own.

We would first slowly twist the upper tip of the stick around spider-webs that were found in crevices around the house and the wall that surrounded it until the tip was darkened and crested with the sticky cobweb. When he was helping, there were four hands on that stick turning it in unison, and I remember feeling a sense of purposefulness in that exactitude. Occasionally he would ask me to let go of the stick so that he could reach higher under the roof's edges. …

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