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The Doolittle Machine, sadly, made very little
difference to pet owners. We found out that
dogs liked food and walks, and cats sneered
at our pathetic need for feline love.
But then some genius realised the potential
of the machine for the eradication of those
animals, not cute and cuddly, but creepy crawly.
The Negotiators whispered into the miniscule
minds of the tiny pests, a poke here,
a prod there, a suggestion that eternal rest
would be best for all involved. The slugs
were easy to convince, depressingly so.
Nobody would forget the hideous aftermath,
the days of the sickening silver slick that
stretched out to the sea, where the sad
little creatures committed their soft bodies to the salt.
Gardeners rejoiced in perfect cabbages.
The honeybees were safe and smug,
the slaters all curled up and died, and
then we turned our attention skyward
and slowly the mosquitoes succumbed,
eeking out their last moments at high frequency
before their last kamikaze flight into the
hypnotic blue lights of the bug zappers
we had provided for the purpose of ending
their tiny lives with a click and a crackle.
Then we tried the cockroaches. And to
our dismay, no approach seemed to work.
The Negotiators pleaded in the face of
improbable but boundless positivity.
Come on ‘roaches, how can you be
so happy, you with your bellies to the floor,
your scuttling life in darkness?
Their reply came whispered,
a night wind through dry grass.
We've heard you talking all these years
as you take out your irrational fears
on our children, our families. We
forgive you. For you say, over and
over, that we can't be gotten rid of—
we're as good as immortal, and when you
finally go and rip your own cities apart
with the energy seething at the heart
of an atom, we will still be here!
You told us it was so.
And some Negotiators tore their headsets
off and wept, but others sat heads bowed,
listening to the curious beauty of the sound
of a million voices raised in chirping chorus:

We survive! We survive! We survive!

Sarah Shirley is a doctor working in Hamilton, New Zealand. She lives with her husband, their two young children, and a large brown dog. Her poems have been published in Star*Line, Abyss and Apex, Pedestal, Landfall, Poetry New Zealand, Takahe, Atlas, and elsewhere.
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8 Apr 2024

the burrowing spiders, / backs the size of satellites, / orbiting your hair
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