All that we did, all that we said or sang
Must come from contact with the soil.
--William Butler Yeats, The Municipal Gallery Revisited
AFTER 17 years grubbing underground it emerges for a week of song and sex, dumps its next generation into the soil, then goes stiff, its God-given lifespan used up. That sums up a cicada’s life. Short but happy.
Hankering for earfuls of that cicada song, the beloved and I went back to that cheap bed-and-board that looks over an eyeful of Taal Lake. Cicadas haunted an adjacent lot grown with avocado and mango trees draped with sayote vines on their boughs—that lot cum trash dump is also an open-air chamber of sorts for a cicada chamber orchestra.
There was triangular planetary pattern in the heavens and a full moon that Friday night—‘twas supposed to signal a sad shake up in the media, why, a giveaway tabloid to MRT and LRT commuters turned in an obituary issue on May’s last day. A day when rural parishes turned festive with Santacruzan processions as homage to onset of rains and the monsoon season.
It was a perfect night: the lake surface was glass, dainty moon delicious like siopao bola-bola on heaven’s platter, unseen cicadas had burst like crotch-tight briefs into song, I was having a post-prandial drink and the beloved was having her period.
Now, these aren’t your usual cicadas, smaller shriller trillers called kulilis or kuliglig. These ones are as fat as a thumb with two pairs of transparent wings sheathing a body daubed in deep-hued-gold and emerald. They won’t be easy to spot once they hug a twig and blend in camouflage with freshly sprung buds and leaves. And they’re called paagang, so I was told decades back.
Maybe it’s the hankering for music elemental, airs and tunes that resonate deep down and within. Maybe I’ve caught some paagang ages back and wondered why such a thumb-size critter could sift the air, breathe through its spiracles while thrumming out sustained several notes at one throw.
Uh, that note is a call to sex. But there’s much more to it than an invitation to copulating frenzy.
Paagang sounds out a sustained shh:r-r-e-e-n-n-g-g in a 3- or 4-minute blast, ceases for a minute or two like a boxer between rounds then resumes the trill.
Earfuls of that can get on your nerves. But that’s the sort of sound that’s different from the brainless blabber that infects cramped neighborhoods in most cities.
That’s supposedly a sacred sound that belongs to Hindu faith systems—the paagang trill is a call to a goddess, a nudge to certain nerve centers in the body in which the goddess may dwell and unfold her blessings of beauty, persistence. and prosperity. Am I blessed?
That trill ought to kindle enthusiasm, uh, that comes from Greek en theos= “the gods within.”
So I join that fecund company, if only in the last few days of their song-and-sex binge, humming along like an infected human and nudging the gods within.
As Piero Ferruci would have it in Inevitable Grace: “The word humility (also human) is derived from the Latin humus, meaning "the soil." Perhaps this is not simply because it entails stooping and returning to earthly origins, but also because, as we are rooted in this earth of everyday life, we find in it all the vitality and fertility unnoticed by people who merely tramp on across the surface, drawn by distant landscapes.”