Reflections on a Cardboard Box

Clive James

Hostathion contains Triazophos,
Controls seed weevil, pea moth, carrot fly.
Of pesticides Hostathion is the boss.
Pests take one sip, kick up their heels and die.

They never find out what Hostathion is.
Triazophos remains the merest word,
Though partly echoed by the acrid fizz
Which suddenly grows too loud to be heard.

Hostathion was once Achilles’ friend,
Staunch at his elbow before Ilios,
But now that name brings pea moth a quick end
Assisted by the cruel Triazophos.

Heroic words are too brave for the deeds
They do, yet maybe now they do less evil –
Ferocious but in service to our needs,
Venting our wrath for us on the seed weevil.

Forests of swords on the Homeric plain
Are momentarily invoked. Well, then,
It says much for this age where we complain
Men die like flies, that flies should die like men.

Triazophos sailed with Hostathion
Through centuries as if this were their goal:
Infinite enemies to fall upon,
Killing so common it is called control.

But all the old insanity is gone.
Where are the funeral pyres, the shrieks of loss?
You need to watch only Hostathion.
Hostathion contains Triazophos,

Who once reaped heads by night in no man’s land
Obeying no man’s orders but his own.
Look at him now, Hostathion’s right hand –
Cleaning their guns beside the telephone.