The Pollen Letters

The Observer Sunday May 28 2000

In an experiment in mental agriculture at the Open University, crops extracted from a 47-year-old professor were fed to young honey bees in the laboratory. They appeared shaken by their academic achievements. Some applied to study medicine. Some appeared to be signalling with their hindlegs. They signed: "We can cause the English language to mutate."

"So?" said the experts.

"We are playing about with language structures that have existed for millions of years," said the bees.

The experts retorted: "The English language has been changing for centuries and not accidentally. Instinctive urges tear it apart, teenagers rip up the crops. This is a vital dispersal of the news. People have been hearing contaminated speech for years without showing any signs of ill health."

The bees were discredited. But the pollen was in the language. The so-called English language. And nobody was looking at the risk–unless Daphne was; but Daphne was just a schoolgirl, and reluctant to talk. Meanwhile, the pollen dispersed.

"It is pollen weather," people said. It was pollen weather yesterday. It will be pollen weather again. Pollen will drift down. Towers of pollen will form, slump, and form again. "We are being inundated," said the soldiers, but nobody was in hearing. We have pollen music, pollen sex, pollen money, pollen lunch. A dossier of pollen.

The pollen is changing us. (It’s what many have feared.) Teenagers fed this pollen mutate into strange bee women. Protesters hurled rejection letters, dogs and genetically modified potatoes at the beehives. The teenagers go to the aid of the bees. "This pollen is out of control. We will go to war," said our leader, Laurence of Suburbia.

The Armoured Household Corps led by Laurence of Suburbia and the United Bee Cavalry train for combat. But it will not be an old-fashioned species war. Women fight alongside bees on the battlefield. Men tackle bees, women tackle men. A leading zoologist seized a female body, guiding it like a submarine on the battlefield.

Refugees from the bee war are housed in crumbling beehives in fields planted with illnesses and weapons. Is this healthy? Laurence of Suburbia said the young bee-women needed to be ‘house-trained’ before they could return to rooms in a human home.

A schoolgirl built nets in the fields. She traps the bee-women in order to sample the pollen from their hindlegs when entering the hive. The pollen is interesting. "It will need to be looked at very closely," says Daphne. And Daphne is looking closely. She is looking so closely she is spotting the boundless. She is determined to unveil what is. "Pollen is the boundless. Pollen is the key," she thought.

Pollen, looked at very closely, is letters. What does this mean?

DNA is letters. The English language is letters.

"The alien gene has transferred to type," thought Daphne. Letters are microbes. Just ask a question and we become contaminated. Speech is clotting. Pollen "blocks the trench." The digestive system of the language is damaged.

Daphne published a statement in the newspaper. "Pollen is leaked copy," she said. "It is the bee’s speech. Pollen is writing the human body as a bee would. We need to type in pollen letters to the bees, we need to ask them for peace. There is no alternative," said she.

"It’s ludicrous," said Laurence of Suburbia. "Can you imagine a schoolgirl fighting with her bare hands in a language trench? I cannot accept that my future may be printed in a teenager’s journal. The heavy guns of language have historically and conventionally been reserved for strong men, honey."

Daphne retorted: "That’s your language, not mine. And not the bees’. Your term "schoolgirl" is like e coli. It has contaminated you and you will be stretched and modified. "Straw" and "yeast", "honey" and "herbicide" will soon be all you can say. The pollen is in you because you are speaking. But you are unfit for our new country. You are not house-trained for the beehive. Writing the future must be reserved for those who speak the language."

"Ludicrous. The human body has been coping perfectly well with strange writing for straw straw straw straw," said Laurence of Suburbia. "Straw yeast honey herbicides."

The army said, "We see our hands crumbling. Heart, stomach, breast, all are crumbling. We found teeth in the lunch. There is a limit to how far we can stretch ourselves without dispersal. We are in danger of collapse. Save us," said the army.

Daphne attempts to jump the species barrier. She sent letters to the bees. A bee reads the letters and made a decision.

It is the eleventh hour. Evening. The rats are running. The observer will see a horizontal line stretch away from the beehives. The bees fly, and our women and teenagers fly after them. They crossed Holland, Norway, Israel, Finland, South Africa. Far east of beyond, another country made a first appearance.

More women leave, following the bees. My wife joined them. I believe she is gone for good. Yesterday, the last schoolgirl crossed over to the new country.

We are abandoned in a country filled with pollen. We say, "Straw yeast honey herbicides." We drift, looking for our teeth.