Sacrifice

Ted Hughes

Little One Too Many –
Born at the bottom of the heap.
The baby daughter’s doll.
She trailed after the others, lugging him.

Little One Too Many grew up
With a strangely wrinkled brow – fold on fold
Like the Tragic Mask.
Cary Grant was his living double.

They said: when he was little he’d drop
And kick and writhe, and kick and cry:
‘I’ll break my leg, I’ll break my leg!’
Till he’d ground his occiput bald.

While the brothers piled Cords, Moleskins, Khakis
Into dynastic, sweated ziggurats,
Little One Too Many’s forehead sank
Away among Westerns, the ruts of the Oregon Trail.

Drill, screwdriver, chisel, saw, hammer
Were less than no use.
A glass-fronted cabinet was his showpiece.
His wife had locked him in there with the china.

His laugh shakes at my ear. That laugh
Was an elastic vault into freedom.
Sound as a golfball.
He’d belt it into the blue.

He never drank in a bar. When he stood
Before he’d stepped she’d plumped the cushion beneath him.
So perfectly kept.
Sundays they drove here and there in the car.

An armchair Samson. Baffled, and shorn,
His dream bulged into forearms
That performed their puppet-play of muscles
To make a nephew stare. He and I

Lammed our holly billets across Banksfields –
A four-inch propellor climbing the sky
For two, three seconds. Then the drop. And the paced-out length
Of his leash. The limit of human strength!

Suddenly he up and challenged
His brothers for a third in the partnership.
The duumvirate of wives turned down their thumbs.
Brotherly concern – Rain from Rochdale –

Snow from Halifax – Stars over valley walls.
His fireside escape
Simple as leaping astride a bareback pinto
Was a kick at the ceiling, and that laugh.

He toiled in his attic after midnight
Mass-producing toy-ducks
On wooden wheels, that went with clicks,
Flight! Flight!

The brothers closed their eyes. They quivered their jowls:
British Columbia’s the place for a chap like thee.
The lands of the future! Look at Australia –
Crying out for timber buildings. Get out there!

On the canal bridge bend, at Hawkscluffe,
A barrel bounced off a lorry.
His motorbike hit the wall.
‘I just flew straight up – and when I dropped

I missed the canal! I actually missed the canal!
I nearly broke the bank! For once
I landed smack on my feet.
My shoelaces burst from top to bottom!’

His laugh thumped my body.
When he tripped
The chair from beneath him, in his attic,
Midsummer dusk, his sister, forty miles off,

Cried out at the hammer blow on her nape.
And his daughter
Who’d climbed up to singsong: ‘Supper, Daddy’
Fell back down the stairs to the bottom.