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The pollinators of Maoxian, Sìchuān Province, China


When the ruler wants a plank, his ministers cut down a tree,
When the ruler wants a fish, his ministers dry up a valley.
Huainanzi
淮南子 (second century BC).1

The pear and apple orchards blossom.
Diligent pollinators move

among the slender boughs,
their fine brushes dipped in harvested pollen

from earlier blooms, a mix of pistils, stamens,
dusty yellow grains.

Delicately they stroke each flower,
the process painstaking, an art

that human hands now master,
thousands labouring so trees may bear fruit.

Spring orchards are silent. Breezes shiver branches
but air no longer

hums and buzzes. Gone the whirr of wings;
butterflies, bees, all the insects

eradicated, a triumph of efficiency.
Cameras capture

happy farmers perched in trees in drifts of flowers.
Here a smiling girl

her national dress carnelian red,
richly embroidered, her cap

a shade of azure. Her timeless pose implies
it was always this way.

1 My thanks to Professor Roel Sterckx of Cambridge University for supplying this quote.


Jenny Donnison