Remembering Teheran

Ted Hughes

How it hung
In the electrical loom
Of the Himalayas – I remember
The spectre of the rose.

All day the flag on the military camp flowed South.

In The Shah’s Motel
The Manageress – a thunder head Atossa – wept on her bed
Or struck awe. Tragic Persian
Quaked her bosoms – precarious balloons of water.
But still nothing worked.

Everything hung on a prayer, in the hanging dust.

With a splash of keys
She ripped through the lock, filled my room, sulphurous,
With plumbers –
Twelve year olds, kneeling to fathom
A pipeless tap sunk in a blank block wall.

...

I had a funny moment
Beside the dried-up river of boulders. A huddle of families
Were piling mulberries into large bowls, under limp, dusty leaves.
All the males, in their white shirts,
Drifted out towards me, hands hanging –

I could see the bad connections sparking inside their heads

As I picked my way through thistles
Among the dead-drop wells – open man holes
Parched as snake-dens –

Later, three stoned-looking Mercedes,
Splitting with arms and faces, surfed past me
Warily over the bumpy sea of talc,
The uncials on their number-plates like fragments of scorpions.

 ...

I imagined all Persia
As a sacred scroll, humbled to powder
By the God-conducting scripts on it,
The lighting serifs of Zoroaster,

The primal cursive.

 ...

Goats, in charred rags,
Eyes and skulls
Adapted to sunstroke, woke me
Sunbathing among the moon-clinker.
When one of them slowly turned into a goat-herd

I knew I was in some ultimate century

And wrongly dressed.
All round me stood the peculiar thistles –
Desert-fanatics –
Politicos, in their zinc-blue combat issue –

Three-dimensional crystal-theorems
For a complete impaling of the given air –
Arsenals of pragmatic ideas –

I retreated to the Motel terrace, to loll there
And watch the officers half a mile away, exercising their obsolete horses.

A bleaching sun, violet edged,
Played with the magnetic field of the mountains.

And prehistoric giant ants, long-shadowed outriders,
Cast in perfect metal (radiation-proof),
Galloped through the land lightly and unhindered,
Stormed my coffee saucer, testing the stain –

At sunset
The army flag rested for a few minutes
Then began to flow North.

 ...

I found a wriggle of water
That had somehow smuggled itself down
From the high Mother of Snows, halfway up the sky,
Spilling and scribbling its last inches to ease
A garden of pot-pourri, in a tindery shade of peach-boughs –

Its naked little current seemed almost dangerous

As the whole evening city
Sank in the muffled drumming
Of a subterranean furnace –

And over it
The desert’s bloom of dust, the petroleum smog, the transistor commotion
Thickened a pinky-purple thunderlight,

The pollen of the thousands of years of voices,
Murmurous, radio-active, rubbing to flash-point –

 ...

Scintillating through the migraine,
The world-authority on Islamic art,
Sipping at a spoonful of yoghurt
And smiling at our smiles, described his dancing
Among self-beheaded dancers who went on dancing with their heads
(But only God, he said, can create a language).

Journalists proffered, on platters of silence,
Split noses, and sliced-off ears and lips –

 ...

At a giddy moment –
To the belly-dancer, the snakiest, loftiest beauty,
(Though she would not dance on my table or kiss me through her veil,
And though she made her request
Only through her demon-mask warrior drummer)
I composed a bouquet – a tropic, effulgent
Puff of publicity, in the style of Attar,

And watched myself translated by the drummer
Into her liquid
Lashing shadow – those arabesques of God,

That thorny fount.