Postcards from Malthusia DAY SEVENTY-FIVE: Jim Carruth

Warning Signs

Each day and night we’ve walked the shed

checking for evidence of fever, a dullness

among the young and vulnerable

or a cough we’ve witnessed in the past

spreading like a slow moving wave

from pen to pen, leaving small corpses

as crumpled sacks in its wake.

Painful lessons have been learned

so old herdsman you do not let me forget

that prevention is key for survival

so the timing and quality of colostrum

is vital; castration and disbudding

should be carried out away from weaning.

Any additional stresses reduce immunity

so limit transport in the first few weeks.

Avoid overcrowding – early separation

and isolation can save lives you remind me

as earlier, sweat drenched, you wrestled a calf.

Be wary of underlying conditions like scour.

Shelter the future herd from cold and wet.  

Clean bedding – do not skimp on straw.

Fresh air at calf level but not a draught.

Avoid extremes – it is all about looking

for a perfect balance,  one you tell me

that has been lost from this world.

Everything is connected – pigs, civets,

camels, bats. Again your hoarse bark

interrupts your flow as you nod to the valley

where a city inherits the silence of the hill.

Don’t ignore the small signs, before the big.

We’ve stretched and torn mother nature.

How often have you told me all of this

your teaching almost inbred, a hefting.

Today I pay more attention to you, your breath.



Jim Carruth is the current Poet Laureate of Glasgow. He is also one of the founders and current chair of St Mungo’s Mirrorball, a network of Glasgow-based poets, and is the artistic adviser for StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival. His work has previously been shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry Prize and the Fenton Aldeburgh Prize. His most recent collection Bale Fire came out in 2019.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s