Two Poems

Ted Hughes

Walt

Night after night he’d sat there,
Eighty-four, still telling the tale.
With his huge thirst for anaesthetics.
‘Time I were dead,’ I’d heard. ‘I want to die.’

That’s altered.
              We lean to a cliff rail
Founded in tremblings.
Beneath us, two thousand five hundred
Miles of swung worldweight
Hit England’s western wall
With a meaningless bump.

‘Aye!’ he sighs. Over and over. ‘Aye!’
And massages his temples.

Can he grasp what’s happened? His frown
Won’t connect. Familiar eagle frown –
Dark imperial eye. The ground flinches.
Mountains of dissolution
Boil cold geysers, bespatter us.
                        Tranquillisers,
Steroids, and a whole crateful
Of escapist Madeira, collided
Three evenings ago –

They swamped and drowned
The synapses, the breath-born spinnaker shells
Of consonants and vowels.
                I found him
Trying to get up out of a chair,
Fish-eyed and choking, clawing at air,
Dumbness like a bone stuck in his throat.

He’s survived with a word – a last word.
A last mouthful. I listen.
I can almost hear a new baby’s
Eyeless howl of outrage – sobered to ‘Aye!’
Sighed slow. Like blessed breath. He breathes it.

I dare hardly look at him. I watch.
He’d crept into my care
A cursed hulk of marriage, a full-sailed fortune
Cast his body, crusted like Job’s,
Onto my threshold Strange Dead Sea creature.
He crawled in his ruins, like Timon.
The Financial Times his morning torture
Fairy gold of a family of dead leaves.
‘Why can’t I die?’ he’d cried, straightening, turning.
His memory was so sharp – a potsherd.
He raked at his skin, whispering ‘God! God!’
Nightly, a nurse eased his scales with ointment.

I’ve brought him out for air. And the cliffs.
                                 And there
The sea towards America – wide open –
Untrodden, glorious America!
Look, a Peregrine Falcon – they’re rare!

Nothing will connect.
He peers down past his shoes
Into a tangle of horizons.

Black, tilted bedrock struggles up
Mouthing disintegration.
Every weedy breath of the sea
Is another swell of overwhelming.
Meaningless. And a sigh. Meaningless.

Now he’s closed his eyes. He caresses
His own skull, over and over, comforting.
The Millmaster, the Caesar whose frown
Tossed my boyhood the baffling coin ‘guilty’.
His fingers are my mother’s. They seem astray
In quaverings and loss
As he strokes and strokes at his dome.
The sea thuds and sighs. Bowed at the rail
He seems to be touching at a wound he dare not touch,
He seems almost to find the exact spot.
His eyelids quiver, in the certainty of touch –

And ‘Aye!’ he breathes. ‘Aye!’

We turn away. Then as he steadies himself,
Still gripping the rail, his turning stare
Meets mine watching him. I can’t escape it
Or hold it. Walt! Walt!
               I bury it
Hugger mugger anyhow
Inside my shirt.

A Macaw

Sorcerer! How you hate it all!
Trampling it under slowly – kneading it all
To an ectoplasmic pulp.

Your trampling is your dance. With your eye –
Your head-writhing
Evil eye – fixing the enemy,

You writhe you weave you entangle
All the strings of his soul
And so drag him towards you, and trample him under

Gomorrah! Sodom! Your eye squirms on its pin
In its socket of ashes. In the sulphurous hand-axe
You have to use for a face. That cowl,

That visor of black flint
Is also your third foot. And your flint cup
Serves you for under-jaw, crudely chipped to fit.

Such a pale eye will never forgive!
The egg-daub daffodil shirt
Is no consolation. And your puppet

Prussian Blue hauberk of feathers
Is a mockery.
               Nothing will help, you know,
When you come, finally, to grips

With the dancing stars
Who devised this
Trembling degradation and prison and this

Torture instrument of brittle plastic
Jammed askew
Athwart your gullet.