Ted Hughes has died and gone to Hell.
Most of the time he died as a human,
Almost every time with his eyes open.
The first time he died,
he was a woman
crawling on hands and knees,
through the churning belly of a factory:
with spindles, the spools, the creaking levers
with copper dust in the air.
Her hair caught in the gears,
lured her silent body into the cogs,
the way the smiling bridegroom
summons the bride.
This was the only time he died as a woman.
Twice he died as an animal:
once as a koala,
the tiny thing had stolen
into some woman’s backyard.
It was not Australia
or even New Zealand.
It was Yorkshire.
Yorkshire with its blue roads
Yorkshire with its red grass.
How did it get to Yorkshire?
As they tried to capture it,
the thing hissed like it
had swallowed a branding iron.
It took them a full ten minutes
and three men to wrench its
obsidian claws from the
soft flesh of the Eucalyptus tree.
When they finally did,
its back was broke.
A girl saw his furry body,
and said how cute he was:
still a bit warm,
mouth frozen like it was yawning,
or trying to swallow something big.
The second time was
as a caterpilliar in an orchard.
It moved irrevocably on the leaf.
When you are that small,
a leaf does not look flat;
instead, you can see each green cell;
You can hold each one up
like you would a precious stone—
spin it like a globe—
taste it not all at once but in parts:
first, the membrane:
it is hard and it is bitter:
the shell of a very old tortoise:
then the golgi, with its crunch
like eating a rabbit without cooking it,
skinning it, even killing it:
the mitochondria—they are tasteless,
odorless, soundless, voiceless.
In the center is a nucleus
like an egg, it throbs dark with fertility.
As a caterpillar,
it is very unwise
to eat this part.
But Ted Hughes did.
Many times Ted Hughes died as a boy.
Only once as a girl,
surrounded by girls,
in a tent that glowed from the inside,
in the middle of a field.
She wears a diamond necklace
that was her sister’s,
She wears a turquoise ring,
that is still her mother’s
and will always be her mother’s.
She is silent, glowing:
a paper lantern.
Ted Hughes died many times.
The final time:
with two friends, and with seven
tea cups on a shelf;
they sat in a delicate row:
polite as children in a pew
not listening to a sermon.
Ted Hughes mumbled
his final words
into the half dark:
I am a male witch.
I am a warlock.
His finger pointed at the tea-cups—
He could feel something coming,
something that was a long time coming,
something that was buried
but no longer dead—
It was a touch upon his shoulder,
soft, almost imperceptible,
like the feet of a caterpillar on a leaf.
It was the last poem he would never write
whispered into his ear.
Ted Hughes has died and gone to Hell.
He died half-drunk. He died, in the presence
of two friends and seven polite tea-cups.
He would have commanded them to move
with his magic in his fingers, in each cell,
made them slide one by one,
crawling all at once, like empty train cars—
or the way only a caterpillar knows how to move:
beginning, middle, end.
End, middle beginning.
He would have moved them all with his poetry,
his magic, his black magic, his white magic—
He would have sent them crashing with
a devil’s wink from his turquoise eyes,
with the careful way they glowed
like the shoulders of a girl at a dance—
—with his breath that smelled like
the raw scent of a bear, with his chin
that jutted like the bow of a boat—
with his finger as thick
as a carrot in the earth—
Ted Hughes has died, and Ted Hughes has gone to Hell
Hell, he says, is not great
but ok, and even good sometimes.
When it is not good,
it is like being homeless—
cold, smelling like
the bad side of a city,
with that unavoidable shame
that groans, swallows, devours—
buzzing like a black hole in the tired gut.
Ted Hughes has died.
In Hell, he finds his peaceful moments—
moments to be a tea-cup, falling—
moments to be a finger, pointing at a tea cup—
moments to be the shoulder of a young girl—
moments to be the girl, understanding her body for the first time—
moments to be the glow of a paper lantern—
moments to be a carrot, uneaten, rotting in the earth—
But when Hell is good,
it is becoming forever
and forever becoming,
what you have always wanted to be.
Ted Hughes is in Hell:
there he is a school teacher—
leading a line of children
across the street.
When Hell is very good,
he is surrounded by children.
They are too many to count.
And they are kindergartners:
Hell, when it is very good,
is like leading a row of kindergartners,
walking all at once, or chugging along,
the way only the caterpillar knows.
The sky is blue, like in a drawing.
Hell, when it is the best kind of Hell,
is like holding one of your hands—
big and soft as a bear paw—
with one of their tiny hands
as they hold hands with each other,
till they get clammy with sweat.
If you need to,
you wipe them off
on your corduroy pants,
grab hold of hands again
to continue crossing.