Postcards from Malthusia DAY FIFTY-SIX: David Briggs


In the Month of Slow Realisations
we learned again to fill a morning
sourcing ingredients for bread,
afternoons backstitching facemasks
made of teatowel and knicker elastic —
making do with what was in the house.
It was like a 1970’s childhood.
Outside, coughs went off
like gunshots in a bank queue,
dyspeptic men lamented shortages,
and joggers guffed out great gouts
of lung juice, but most smiled sweetly,
kept the requisite distance
at the aisle junctions of supermarkets.
And though we had no symptoms
we slept poorly, spent the small hours
making our futile reckonings with eternity.
We watched our seed trays hourly,
wept over every fresh shoot.
We picked up neglected instruments
and account books, only then
realising our egregious mistake:
all along, the debts we owed each other
we’d been crediting to ourselves.
In the Month of Antipathetic Heatwaves
those with gardens sat in their gardens
reading long-resisted novels,
interrupted only by a ceaseless chorus
of ambulance sirens and surveillance drones.
It was hard to feel appropriately dystopian
in our deckchairs, in unseasonal sunshine,
in tranquil suburbs, but while we hadn’t yet
succumbed to the bourbon breakfast,
we had noticed the booze hour
clicking round earlier each day,
like ice cubes clicking in a glass of rosé.
And there were so many
new ways of keeping count:
that stack of empties by the bin;
the dwindling stock of packets and tins,
the litany of household names
going into administration;
the daily reckoning of
the caretaker government briefing.
In the Month of Imagined Futures
we flirted coyly with optimism —
predicted the inevitable end
of the neo-liberal attempt to dismantle
the last of the post-war settlement;
enjoyed the proliferation
of native birdsong,
the unalloyed city air.
We could feel beneath our feet
the shifting tectonic plates
of what we assumed must be
(at last) the Great Reconfiguration.
And hugging the ground
through the ensuing earthquake,
we smiled grimly across the parquet
as everything we cherished
fell from the shelves and smashed
into intricate pieces around us.
In the Month of Inessential Chores
I pruned our flowering crab tree,
laddered my way into topmost branches
with handsaw and secateurs
to thin out the dead wood and watershoots
so a pigeon might fly through,
should any passing pigeon desire so to do.
The view up there was novel —
neighbours’ gardens, a cityscape
made more lucid now
by months without traffic.
It was easy to forget, for a moment,
the ventilators lined like dominoes
in ICUs across Europe and America.
And in that moment I saw
the Minister for Plague
at his mahogany desk
shoving aside the daily count,
leaning in with bonsai scissors
to prune an exquisitely manicured tree.

David Briggs has published three collections with Salt, the latest being Cracked Skull Cinema (2019).


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