Issue 19: Drew Milne


Flight of the Pesticides

Out of this once spattered shield there is but a solitary screen wipe and no more mothstorm, no more dying with the wind and the car. Call it an absence of grammar in the flattened book of erasure, but you can sting while you still have the venom. And cry, thus, let slip the peaceful particulates, the broken wheels, the break dust and the rest. The constructions come on all passive, so many slippers in the active voice. How many harvests left, how many festivals of sun, how many falls before there is no soil worth talking about. The toxic reserve is not the old murrain, the blighted potato, rust or smut, but the standing army of chemical nerve, the mycelium of genetic modification, downwind of someone called something, calling radiation over the polar freezer section, and the fatberg is under the beach. Stone seems mercifully persistent, and lichens but lingering letrasets amidst crop rotation. Is that myth coming to greet your pollinators, as though to reward the regime. Not a poem as such. The format withers on the radioactive plume. Even the subjunctive is dying. So much for bugs in the system, but somehow not quite for all the honest dirt in the wilds and slurs of comprehensive nuclear testing. The profits are pricing in the survival of abstract food. It’s the livestock stupid. Statistics have a plunging necklace and the radio is all about declining numbers. Weather has been ruled out. House prices are an index of lyric security. Yes, the light is a little muffled, a little clumsily maintained, but what is that sound if not the tenderness of the dusk. Frosts bite hard into household appliances and trouble the cupboard of moths otherwise getting on with cardigans. Born aloft by the prevailing algorithm, flying insects face a cliff edge exit. The scale of the losses is trending but on course for nothing, and to the power of hope. Not even data. Decline assumes the heights of lively weather, both past and still to come. Microplastics are the new soup, corpsing oil suspended in water. What was alarming becomes décor. Vast tracts are humbled into reportage. Everything is going down with the food chain. Entomology is the first to capture what the risk of scattering cannot but dismiss as intangibles in the mist. Spores are captured by microscope slides held up to catch the mildew and in such numbers that one, at least, must get through. Special tents called malaise traps captured samples of flying insects before the taking of beer. You kill what you would sample and torture to preserve and in preserving honour, too, the corpses of scientific process. Europa’s grassland butterflies are victims of our fire. The drivers have their eyes on their herding instruments, and bees are dying in droves. Everything that flies is a memory of abundance. A flickering baseline would be a consolation for cropped vision, but farmland has very little to offer for the wild civility of flowers and the biomass and everything that still feeds on bugs. This is real. But it feels like a film that is not moving. The windscreen no longer needs to be cleaned.

Drew Milne edited Marxist Literary Theory (1996), with Terry Eagleton, and Modern Critical Thought (2003). His collected poems, entitled In Darkest Capital were published by Carcanet in 2017. Since 1997 he’s been the Judith E Wilson Lecturer in Drama & Poetry, Faculty of English, University of Cambridge.