Saturday, December 24, 2005

An unexpected find 

Today I bought the most extraordinary book,
in the most unlikely place.

“Book Fair” proclaimed the signs,
battered as they were from repeated use,
moving from this venue to that.

“Popular” works mostly; colourful, attractive,
but mostly shallow, mostly straightforward,
mostly designed for the coffee-table.
Not that I haven’t bought those too, but they were all I expected to find here.
Still, I went in: you never know…

Signs tacked to the walls with Blu-tack, or lodged amongst the volumes,
displayed the syllabus available for coffee-time study:
Travel, Military History, Films and Media, Childrens,
and off to one side, a particularly small section:

A stack of anthologies of popular verse, a few familiar names.
One caught my eye: Ted Hughes.
“How The Whale Became” sprang to mind;
I can’t remember the story now,
but I can remember that years ago I thought it was good
(that’s good as in having depth, having meaning, real)
and I had noted his name, although I read little more.

You know how it is when you discover something special,
or make something of which you’re proud,
or achieve something notable, and want to tell everyone you meet?
I discovered Hughes’ “Birthday Letters”…

I wanted to share my secret with the world
as they thronged the bright December street,
intent on their Christmas shopping;
the secret I held that I’d discovered an astonishing book.
Full of power, full of unbridled feeling
(that’s as in a wild horse, one which has not yet accepted the social niceties of quiet domestication);
direct, raw, intelligent.
Published in the year of his death, and 35 years after her suicide,
looking both forward and backward,
everything pivoting on that event.

How strange; for days, weeks perhaps,
I’d been stuck in shallowness myself,
until the thought struck: “What I need is a Jolly Good Book,
something with Real People who present Real Emotions
and live Real Life;
something which will lift my eyes from this routine
and show me colours I’d forgotten.”

I think I just found it.

The Shot

Your worship needed a god.
Where it lacked one, it found one.
Ordinary jocks became gods –
Deified by your infatuation
That seemed to have been designed at birth for a god.
It was a god-seeker. A god-finder.
Your Daddy had been aiming you at God
When his death touched the trigger.
In that flash
You saw your whole life. You ricocheted
The length of your Alpha career
With the fury
Of a high-velocity bullet
That cannot shed one foot-pound
Of kinetic energy. The elect
More or less died on impact –
They were too mortal to take it. They were mind-stuff,
Provisional, speculative, mere auras.
Sound-barrier events along your flightpath.
But inside your sob-sodden Kleenex
And your Saturday night panics,
Under your hair done this way and done that way,
Behind what looked like rebounds
And the cascade of cries diminuendo,
You were undeflected,
You were gold-jacketed, solid silver,
Nickel-tipped. Trajectory perfect
As through ether. Even the cheek-scar,
Where you seemed to have side-swiped concrete,
Served as a rifling groove
To keep you true.
Till your real target
Hid behind me. Your Daddy,
The god with the smoking gun. For a long time
Vague as mist, I did not even know
I had been hit,
Or that you had gone clean through me –
To bury yourself at last in the heart of the god.

In my position, the right witchdoctor
Might have caught you in flight with his bare hands,
Tossed you, cooling, one hand to the other,
Godless, happy, quieted.
I managed
A wisp of your hair, your ring, your watch, your nightgown.

~ Ted Hughes ~

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