Postcards from Malthusia DAY TEN: Jacob Polley

A Sworn Telling of Some Difficulty, With True Names of English Places and Persons


From Nethercleave over Rudha Bridge

on the Northway. At Ley Farm, hunger.

At Venton, the scab. On the rise, emptiness

as far as The Hill. From Pendle’s Down Farm,

smoke. (That ruined hearth His spirit-mouth

and there three under ten received heat

of His word and were burnt beyond.)


The Weir a chapel step for want of rain.

From dry throats unbidden praise

came murmuring at Monkleigh Wood.

At Footlands by the sizzle of flies

it was reckoned the whole drove had spoiled

a week in the sun. We would not face

otherwise from that and breathed the certainty

of our own deliverance, for He is as

amply realmed in one atom of sullied air

as He is in water of mint or myrrh smoke.


To hazard or not the Fingerstone was weighed

then amongst us. Elder Able on his haunches,

holding it, asked of the darkness in his hat

the way. At Van’s Wood, Destroying Angel

at the clearing’s edge was deliberated over

with no heart abiding in bitterness long

but some, dazed at the purity of cap

and stem, wax-white in the half-shade,

sat then mute on the turf. I was one

who raised her voice, and Elders Able

and Dusteby made to stopper my mouth

by laying on of hands and feet. Symptoms


of poisoning. What familiar, I cried,

did purr and gloze in Able’s crown,

that he would so often mutter into it

and attend to the darkness therein?


The Lord sighed then, and we the fettlers-

under of His leafy machinery quivered

in the rattle and roar. So was He weaver

of that moment and, moment by moment,

of all that had been and will be by Him

pieced and doffed. Assigned we then those two

to silence and passed from there to Lock’s Beam.




Jacob Polley’s last book, Jackself, won the 2016 T.S. Eliot Prize.




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