The Molt

At the park with my son
on my hip we walk from

trunk to trunk scouting
cicada husks. The trees

hiss. His thighs clamp
my waist as sound swells

around us. We are five
months into a game

neither of us know
how to play. We dart

between patches
of shade and sweat

pools in his armpits,
on his scalp, his whole body

sticky with it. I point
to the slit where it left

itself, slip his finger in
and tell him the story

of his birth, how when
he was pulled from me

I shushed the room
of mouths that erupted

glad to hear the cry
finally emerge from

his lungs, proving
he was alive, that he is

like one in this way,
his tiny body amplifying

its own sound. He swipes
the hull off the bark

watching its kaleidoscopic
heart split more open

as it falls to the ground,
and above us their song

wails on, sung from
the drum flexing in-

side the tymbal basin
we’re among now

after the long years.
Deep summer so hot

our eyes burn witness-
ing this quick last yawn

of their long life spent
mostly underground.

A year ago the sound was
so strong is this a good cry?

I begged the midwife.
She flicked his sole

and his voice switched on
like that. I let him touch

the husk, confident
no one else has. He has not

touched anyone but me
or his father for over

half of his life. He touches
the faces of his grandparents

on the screen he holds
with both hands and leans in

to kiss them
on the mouth.

Where is your nose? we ask
and he scratches my mother’s

on the screen. He thinks
our masks are a game and laughs

like when we play
dónde está Joaquín?

The word for these
means things stripped

from the body and I
want to tell him

there’s a vastness between
pull and strip as he bucks

on my hip calling
for the streetlamp

he sees at the edge
of the park but know

he can’t grasp it
yet. If he saw them now

in the flesh, would he know
to touch them, how to

kiss someone
else’s mouth?

The cicadas hiss
all the way home.

When we reach the porch
he grunts and points up

to the corner where
he sees a bee slink

into a hole smaller
than its own body.

We do this all again
tomorrow, our only

outing, and sometimes
it is days before

we leave the house.
What happens now

after the flesh
has been pulled

from the flesh, body
from body? I think

of him and still milk
comes all this time later.

More and more
I am convinced

it is not a leaving
but a slipping

more into, becoming
more of itself like wounds

worn like a skin that once
protected it but that it

no longer needs, intuiting
the only way through

the pain is through it.
Dreaming that night

he shrieks and I know
he is trapped in the sound

box, thousands
of winged things

he can’t see clicking
around him. Shhh

no, no, little kiwi,
I was just singing

in my dreams, go back to sleep
I whisper and pull him

him into me, waking him
just enough to ensure

he doesn’t slip back in-
to it. Light shifts in

from the lamp
outside. All night

the cicadas sing and
slip into more

of themselves in this fatal
phase waning thin

as a fingernail toward their
final dark. Before I fall

back asleep I think
of the lilies my husband

brought home those
months ago when

the nymphs were still
nymphs beneath us,

the fur on the wide
white petals’ thighs

sprung like new hair
and the black swirl

a galaxy in the center
of our son’s young head

posed beside them
in the polaroid, smaller

than one flower’s wing-
span, before every body

posed a threat of in-
fecting us. The trees

go quiet. After the molt
ends we watch the bees

glut up the wild side
of the roses. He learns

teeth, ear, toes, tongue
in one morning

and I am amazed
by how far back

his memory goes—that, still
months later, he points

to the hole on the porch
from the one time

we saw the one bee—
afraid of how much of

this he’ll remember.

Caitlin Roach earned an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is an assistant professor-in-residence at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. A finalist for the National Poetry Series 2019 Open Competition, her poems appear in jubilat, Narrative, Best New Poets, Tin House, The Iowa Review, Colorado Review, and Poetry Daily, among other publications. You can find more of her work online at caitlinroach.com.