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On the ReservationsTed Hughes
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Vol. 10 No. 11 · 2 June 1988
Poem

On the Reservations

Ted Hughes

783 words

for Jack Brown

I Sitting Bull On Christmas Morning

Who put this pit-head wheel,
Smashed but carefully folded
In some sooty fields, into his stocking?
And this lifetime nightshift – a snarl
Of sprung celluloid? Here’s his tin flattened,
His helmet. And the actual sun closed
Into what looks like a bible of coal
That falls to bits as he lifts it. Very strange.
Packed in mossy woods, mostly ashes,
Here’s a doll’s cot. And a tiny coffin.

And here are Orca Tiger Eagle tattered
In his second birthday’s ragbook
From before memory began.
All the props crushed, the ceilings collapsed
In his stocking. Torremolinos, Cleethorpes –
The brochures screwed up in a tantrum
As her hair shrivelled to a cinder
In his stocking. Pit boots. And, strange,
A London, burst, spewing tea-leaves,
With a creased postcard of the Acropolis.

Chapels pews broken television.
(Who dumped these, into his stocking,
Under coal-slag in a flooded cellar?)
Pink Uns and a million whippet collars –
Did he ask for these? A Jumbo Jet
Parcelled in starred, split, patched Christmas wrappings
Of a concrete yard and a brick wall
Black with scribble
In his stocking. No tobacco. A few
Rabbits and foxes broken leaking feathers.

Nevertheless, he feels like a new man –
Though tribally scarred (stitch-tattoos of coal-dust),
Though pale (soiled, the ivory bulb of a snowdrop
Dug up and tossed aside),
Though one of the lads (the horde, the spores of nowhere
Cultured under lamps and multipled
In the laboratories
Between Mersey and Humber),
He stands, lungs easy, freed hands –
Bombarded by pollens from the supernovae,
Two eyepits awash in the millennia –

With his foot in his stocking.

II Nightvoice

My young men shall never work. Men who work cannot dream, and wisdom comes in dreams.

Smohalla, Nez Percé Indians

She dreams she sleepwalks crying the Don River
relieves its nine
circles through her kitchen her kids
mops and brooms herself a squeejee and not
soaking in but
bulging pulsing out of their pores the
ordure déja vu in Tesco’s makes her
giddy

She dreams she sleepwalks crying her Dad alive
dug up is being
pushed into a wood-burning stove
by pensioners who chorus in croaks
While Shepherds
Watched Their television gives her
palpitations

She dreams she sleepwalks crying all the dead
huddle
in the slag-heaps wrong
land wrong
time tepees a final
resting for the epidemic
solution every
pit-shaft a
mass grave herself
in a silly bottle shawled
in the canal’s
fluorescence the message
of the survivors a surplus people
the words
washed off her wrists
and hands she complains keep feeling
helpless

She dreams she sleepwalks mainstreet nightly crying
Stalin
keeps her as an ant
in a formicary in a
garbage-can which is his private office
urinal she thinks her aerials
must be bent

Remembering how a flare of pure torrent
sluiced the pit muck
off his shoulder-slopes while her hands
soapy with milk blossom anointed
him and in their hearth
fingers of the original sun opened
the black
bright book of the stone
he’d brought from beneath dreams
or did she dream it

III The Ghost Dancer

We are not singing sportive songs. It is as if we were weeping, asking for life.

Owl, Fox Indians

A sulky boy. And he stuns your ear with song.
Swastika limbs, his whole physique – a dance.
The fool of prophecy, nightlong, daylong
Out of a waste lot brings deliverance.

Just some kid, with a demonic roar
Spinning in vacuo, inches clear of the floor.

Half anguish half joy, half shriek half moan:
He is the gorgon against his own fear.
Through his septum a dog’s penile bone.
A chime of Chubb keys dangling at each ear.

Temenos Jaguar mask – a vogue mandala:
Half a Loa, half a drugged Oglala.

With woad cobras coiling their arm-clasp
Out of his each arm-pit, their ganch his grasp.

Bracelets, anklets; girlish, a bacchus chained.
An escapologist’s pavement, padlock dance.
A mannequin elf, topped with a sugarfloss mane
Or neon rhino-power-cone on a shorn sconce,

Or crest of a Cock Of The Rock, or Cockatoo shock,
Or the sequinned crown of a Peacock.

And snake-spined, all pentecostal shivers,
This megawatt, berserker medium
With his strobe-drenched battle-cry delivers
The nineteenth century from his mother’s womb:

The workhouse dread that brooded, through her term,
Over the despair of salvaged sperm.

Mau-Mau Messiah’s showbiz lightning stroke
Puffs the stump of Empire up in smoke.

Brain-box back to front, heart inside out,
Aura for body, and for so-called soul
Under the moment’s touch a reed that utters
Out of the solar cobalt core a howl

Bomblit, rainbowed, aboriginal:
‘Start afresh, this time unconquerable.’

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