Postcards from Malthusia DAY FOURTEEN: Sharon Larkin

Noli Me Tangere


We avoid alley, ginnel, snicket, jigger,

    favour wider lanes in rural areas

for dubious doses of fresh air, sun.

     Handshakes, hugs are supplanted

first by elbow bumps, then clasping 

     our own hands across our chests, 

gestures of intent, no eye contact. 

     A raised palm declares touch me not.

A nod while staring at our own feet.


     Perfume from that girl trails 

behind for yards, sneaks sideways 

     up nostrils, stirs unease, disgust.

Late night treks to supermarkets, 

      scarf bandit-like around mouth

and nose. Gloves, strict time limits,

     bills kept below the swipe amount, 

breath held at checkouts, gasping 

     to the door as if already a case.


Fingers wagging through glass: 

     Leave it on the step, sign for me.

Spraying deliveries and doorknobs. 

     Neural networks retrained 

to ban fingers from facial orifices, 

      handwashing to Happy Birthday, 

Jerusalem, God Save the Queen

      or Killing in the name of. Asking

will these hands never be clean?




Sharon Larkin’s poems regularly appear in anthologies, magazines and on-line. Interned at the Food Factory was published by Indigo Dreams in 2019. She runs Poetry Café Refreshed in Cheltenham and the Good Dadhood on-line poetry project.

Postcards from Malthusia DAY THIRTEEN: Christophe Riesco

The Dame


We appear to be surrounded 

by Lady Macbeth, one vast audition.  


It turns out we too are trying for the role. 


Shall I be like Sarah Siddons – 

‘tragedy personified’ – or Charlotte Melmoth, 

‘grande dame’? Perhaps you will be 

like Vivien Leigh, born 

in Darjeeling, that town grown up

between the sanatorium and the ammo dump

like all towns. 


The audition is mandatory, 

but open-minded: Lady Macbeth 

need not be a woman born, 

you can be a fat man or a little boy, 

you can be from New Jersey. 

Your face mask can be functional, 

cute, or printed to look like a skull. 


Perhaps I’ll be like Marion Cotillard, 

the face of Chanel Number Five. 

Perhaps it will be broadcast live. 


How shall I convince everyone 

that I am sleepwalking? Have we 

had enough practice, bending 

among the tea-leaves, in the seasons 

we didn’t realise were rehearsals. 

Lady you know who, the darkness and wetness 

implicit in the name, dangerous dew. 

Have we had enough practice, 

method acting unawares, 

for the lime-light and the curtain-call,

and the notices.




Christopher Riesco lives and works in Manchester.

Postcards from Malthusia DAY TWELVE: Clare Crossman

The Suspended World


I have seen those who knew the war, 

walking together like Old Testament prophets.

I have seen a lone white haired man lifting dumb bells

in a meadow to prove something to himself.

I have seen in nod and smile, a new courtesy

announcing suddenly, we are postulants.


I have heard the wind through the woods

and an early bumblebee that does not care.

And two larks rising over fields

beside the road full of cars going

to the ghost city. The larks reminded me 

of those ascending the cliffs of Dover in 1914

Vaughan Williams knew


The dog still wild, wades down the river

trying to chase deer. A lift of heart.


Now there is just the quiet of our rooms, 

the shadows and the clock

at different times of day.

A life simplified, to moving, breathing,

if we can 

Hoping we are being told the truth 

under the innocent flowering

of the cherry blossom trees.


At night the pillows soft against the dark.

are a presence, a scarf of ordinary things.

As others who have loved and lost, 

been ill for a long time, this is a place 

beyond the suspended world.

Sunlight outside the window  

and memory, like the early speedwell

I saw, tiny, blue, at the paths edge,

where nothing was being said.




Clare Crossman has published three collections of poetry and is working on a fourth to be published later this year by Shoestring Press. She recently collaborated with the filmmaker James Murray white on waterlight, a film about a chalk stream in Cambridgeshire where she lives.

Postcards from Malthusia DAY ELEVEN: Matthew Caley

The Sick Man                          

                                after Jules Superveille


   this sky this sky is too bloody big     too big for travel le ciel

as an ocean this sky    too deep no rooms available

this city too teeming    the countryside too dull

  I am ceiling    sky ground water    squall


 I have not adjusted to living well

still     a maladjusted brat with a pail

I cough    then forget when I cough    [all my handkerchiefs smell]

 and every one of seventy-seven years cough along as well


  in chorus   the year? Twenty-Twenty  the last century free to fall

all new-borns are born fully equipped with senility

      old men a No-Go zone    words curdle


in my pen   a sunflower a young man   a snowflake in hell

     is glowing     what’s on my hands in infinitesimal

They begin to sing from balconies of hail



Since Matthew Caley‘s debut Thirst (Slow Dancer, 1999) was nominated for The Forward Prize for best first collection, he has published four more collections and read his work widely. His sixth collection is Trawlerman’s Turquoise (Bloodaxe, 2019).

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.




Postcards from Malthusia DAY NINE: Julie Hogg

Ariel Road


NW6, too early for the Thameslink,

you’re blushing in a boyfriend coat,


missing him, already-bursting about

Paris in this strangest mid-March but


the tree isn’t holding onto bereft, it’s

brash in its blossom, branching up,


spores hooking onto a pale rider sky,

brunching before Spring – no regrets,


Camden queens’ you are, turning life

at this corner full of wondrous future,


all balmy betwixt stasis I’m thinking

stone and waterline, far from tor or sea




Julie Hogg is published in many literary journals and anthologies. Her debut pamphlet, Majuba Road, is available from Vane Women Press.

Postcards from Malthusia DAY EIGHT: Sam Phipps

Other News

It’s almost as if we were a bunch of recalcitrant cows. Recalcitrant is a word I last heard spoken by Joyce Carol Oates of the grass on her childhood New Jersey farm. It was her task to cut it. That’s true. We met in a hotel but that’s another story. Lockdown – not to be confused with lockup though you could be locked down in a lockup, could you not? Lock up your data and back up your daughters. Look up to them too – they know more than you do. Today all the flour was gone, pasta was flying and I could not tell if this was panic buying or calculated selfishness buying or maybe the retail buyers had merely misjudged. Like I say, in this crisis there can be no heroism – we shall be lucky if we find a common decency (actually that was Suzanne Moore in yesterday’s Guardian and she was paraphrasing Albert Camus in La Peste, usually translated as The Plague.) One daughter talked last night about whether to leave London before the lockdown (if lockdown there is) and abandon the vulnerable children she art-therapises – or stay put in that mighty city and risk not making it north. When the paper runs out I’ll Bic my own skin, wash, scrub, repeat. I am asymptomatic.



Sam Phipps is a freelance writer based in Edinburgh. He is on the Writing Poetry MA at Newcastle University. His poetry has appeared in Poems for Grenfell Tower (Onslaught Press), the Bridport Prize AnthologyNutmeg and a special black ring binder.