Transgenic Pastoral by Rebecca Dunham

1. Pick ’n Save
   Bt corn contains a genetically inserted bacterium to infect
   and kill corn borers, a common plant parasite.
How to tell one bin’s green-
sheaved ears from the next, 
 
how to tell which carries
death in its flesh,
        in code—
 
this isn’t a case of Mendel’s 
family resemblance—
 
Monsanto Company is an altogether 
different beast.
       I can’t tell & they
 
won’t say: the novel seed
is ‘sort of’ like 
the original, but ‘sort of’
not. Sort of like being
‘sort of’ 
 
pregnant. I peel back 
the husk, part the silk’s 
curtain to see. 
Yellow-kerneled 
rows, neat & tight.
Unbored—
 
A house in order.
Sort of. 
2. Gene Gun
        “The team had to fire thousands of times to get a few
        dozen plants that looked promising.” 
           from The World According to Monsanto
Or imagine it like this:
Scientist as knife-
          thrower in a traveling
          circus show. Eyes folded blind.
 
Bullets of tungsten, gold—
Another species’ genes 
          along for the ride.
          Artillery fire, breaching the wall.  
 
Now imagine yourself:
Girl in a dress sequined aqua, 
          your arms & legs pinned
          like the Vesuvian man.
 
          The only way in.
3. Transgenic Potato Study
          Rowett Research Institute, Edinburgh, Scotland
 First, we found they were not equivalent
to conventional potatoes. Further,
they were not equivalent among themselves.
The quantity of lectin varied up to 20%.
 
Aphids, pearled as lice, can ruin
a crop in days. Now,
snowdrop lectin blooms in each
tuber’s cell, white on white—
 
rats in the experimental group: brains,
livers, testes less developed; atrophied
tissue in the pancreas & intestine.
A proliferation of cells in the stomach &
 
like flowers in snow, Monsanto
might say, life can open
where we least expect it. Farmers
net bags for sale in pyramids
 
that is troubling,
it can facilitate the development of tumors.
The rats’ organs were treating
the potatoes as foreign bodies…
 
at the Pick ’n Save, to be mashed 
& spooned in rosettes on family  
dinner plates. Potatoes, safe  
as houses. I think of them, bedded  
 
Interviewer: “Would you eat transgenic potatoes?”
Arpad Pusztai, biochemist: “No.”
 
down in my pantry. What strange
new sight stirs there, unseen?
4. Roundup
In my backyard, the weeds spread—
      bald dandelions, flocks
      of garlic mustard, thistle. We all use it.
 
I pop my daughter in her 
      carrier, face to my chest, & drape
      a linen cloth over her head. 
 
To protect her from the sun. 
      Used according to directions, Roundup 
      poses no risk to people, animals,
 
      or the environment. Just 
Pump-n-Go: I start in the backyard.
      Got to get it down before 
 
it rains, before tomorrow’s
      playdate. Leaves no residue. 
Mist hits my nose & lungs, & I cough.
 
      My right hand’s palm burns. 
All ornamental flowers, trees,
      & shrubs may be planted one day 
 
      after application. I keep going. 
My daughter stirs. I pat her 
      back. God help me, I keep going. 
 
It’s 2009 & I’ve never heard 
      the word Monsanto. They sell it
      at the local nursery. 100% 
 
     biodegradable. Still, didn’t I 
     scrub my hands after, before 
I would even touch her? I threw 
 
     my clothes in the wash, showered, 
& gave her a bath. In the news: 
     men exposed more than two days

a year had twice the risk of lymphoma. 
     I knew, same as my grandmother
     must have known smoking
 
     would kill her in the end. Report: 
Roundup can be the origin of a cancer 
     that will develop thirty or forty years later. 
 
I kept going. I gave her a bath.