By | 28 October 2013

Hummingbird Drone

Open the cage now.
Who amongst us hasn’t sung
an urge to fly and kill?
Complex muscles move wings.
It’s the hardest thing of all for scientists to replicate.
Fool. You always thought that whirring inside you
was a heart beating.


In the microaviary
I am told that drones
are developed by army handlers
who simulate the flight
of moths, hawks, ravens
—anything winged
says the angel-haired man in the dock.
He watches me with Gorgon Stare,1
wings neatly clipped and hidden.

The new birds are small
but the nest is vast.
In a steel cavern in Virginia,
one hundred flat screens
hang from metal skeletons.
Think of the kindness of dentists
in small, featureless rooms,
airports at 3am, half-remembered raves.
An old grief rises up:
in the absence of bird-egg blue, cubbyholes,
antiquated soaring lyrics
I must admire
new foxholes,
a terrifying ability to see.

The man from PR has a brow
like a furrowed dune.
These are unmanned drones
he says in unmanned couplets
that surveil and kill.
He introduces me to a gifted man-child
building wings
that replicate the hovering skills of the hawkmoth.
Tested at 4500 metres
over Helmund province,
it has no smalltalk.
Nor does he.
But I saw the video of a woman at a well
carrying a large bag, then a glitch:
a flutter of fabric on repeat
her mouth opening and closing for days.

Ma’am, this partic’lar drone is programmed to spy,
unlike predator drones such as the Reaper
that both spies and strikes.

I look down at my clipboard
and long for birdseed, even soldiers with guns,
the rat-a-tat-tat of older kinds of verse.
I long to strip away
the fall-eyed angel’s khaki cloak
and sing ‘there!’
But song is not part of the technology.
Even so, it’s a growth market, sings Ashton B. Carter,
the Pentagon’s chief weapons expert,
to blue-hooded Virginian sky.

Raven drone

Troops toss Raven drones
over sandhills
as if they were model planes,
then take in the view remotely.
This is their featherless picturesque,
Johnny Appleseed’s best new video,
though some senior figures
have confessed to sword and sandal nostalgia,
a desire for knight-on-knight, bird-on-bird.
But daddy’s post-hero now,
in charge of hummingbird stock
and flapping wing technologies.
It makes no difference if he drops a uniform size;
life has flocked to him.

The trick is get them flying consistently at 18km per hour,
then to alight on enemy windowsills
and sing folk still.

Hummingbird versus Raven

‘The next month the Hummingbird and then the Raven went AWOL. The initial call I got was that the Raven was going to Africa’, said the corporal who asked for anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss drone glitches.

‘But it’d actually gone AWOL over a dark forest in Barvaria.’ The last soda straw images* coming through on wireless show the bird attempting to build a nest out of nails in the forest of Odin.

These poems form a suite first published in The Wind-up Birdman of Moorabool Street (Puncher and Wattmann, 2012)

  1. Gorgon Stare is a new drone digital viewing technology that can capture an entire city on video. It requires 2000 analysts to process the data feeds from a single drone.

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