Postcards From Malthusia DAY EIGHTY: Harry Smart

Metaphor in Lockdown


If the metaphors are no in the natural words thersens

then a’ll no give them time the day or energy.

A’ll no like the world to ony thing, not the covid,

nor the sleekit vacillations o politicians,

bought administrators, purchased journalists.


I’ll listen out for leid and Lied, aye, but I won’t reach

for compassion that I can’t in truth sustain

nor hide the anger at seeing black men choked

or folk abandoned to the food bank. The nicht

a’ll put ma hauns thegither for the NHS, the Trussel Trust,

wave at ‘neighbours because I fail to see how my not clapping

would be ony different fae the non-applause of those

that simply couldnae give nor sharn nor shite. Sither,


a’m agait, a dinna fit. Can nobbut spayk for missen.

A cannae bring missen to pray thegither wi ma kirk

family: sadly cannae join the a-nicht vigil I used keep

nor bide the invocation of 2 Chronicles 7

that calls for prayer in time of plague but

elides the call to metanoia or tschuvah and has exactly nowt

to say about precision ordnance dropped on hospitals in Syria

or Yemen. For tonight, I reserve the right to rage on Twitter;

The big man kens how lang a can dae that. I ask him every day

about rage and aa things else, he gives different answers,

aiblins, to me and to my co-religionists. No language fits.


Fae the winnach I see geans, no blossom now,

a hybrid rowan wi russet flowerheads not quite open,

a tall birch and a willow. Flooers and forest. I hear birdsong;

if I’m lucky appen a’ll see a wren, a blackbird, gowdfinches.

My wife has brought messages from town: only one of us

can go out at one time. She’s brought fresh bread and

my medication; I’m officially depressed

beyond tablets, gone beyond pills into the bleak

lyric of plain things, anger at the emptiness of claims.


I’m one of the lucky ones. And all that luck is built

on kindness and on bain. I’m one of the saints, I believe

in glory, see that new licht in men and women giving

o thersens at a level I can’t meet.

I cannot count myself the beautiful unbroken ony mair.

I cannot, in pandemic days, forget the war of capital

against periphery, agin the world, of white man contra black.

There’ll be no new normal. There’ll be the old normal

with more boots and better guns, as soldiers have in every age

worn boots and weapons aye improved.


Who needs metaphor when we have our grand high-heidyins.

Who needs metaphor when there’s knees on necks,

tear gas, camps for IDPs, whistleblowers

exiled to the US prison complex: why

metaphor when there’s been no metamorphosis.


Trees have blossomed, have come into full leaf,

in time they’ll bear their fruit; the seasons come and go,

the global death tolls rise, we prepare for a second peak

in the graph like trawlermen prepare for the next big wall

of water; the boat drops into the trough, the wave strikes,

and that is metaphor enough.



Harry Smart lives in Montrose. Originally from Yorkshire, he has lived in Scotland for over 40 years. He has published poetry (with Faber), fiction (with Dedalus) and social theory (with Routledge). His poems have appeared in a wide range of magazines and online projects. His current project is The Boy and the Knife, a theology of violence for unbelievers.


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