Last Letter – Ted Hughes

October 22, 2010

Last Letter / Ted Hughes
What happened that night?
Your final night
Double, treble exposure over everything
Late afternoon, Friday
My last sight of you alive
Burning your letter to me in the ashtray
With that strange smile

Had I bungled your plan?
Had it surprised me sooner than you purposed?
Had I rushed it back to you too promptly?
One hour later you would have been gone
Where I could not have traced you
I would have turned from your locked, red door that nobody would open
Still holding your letter
A thunderbolt that could not earth itself
That would have been electric shock treatment for me
Repeated over and over all weekend
As often as I read it or thought of it
That would have remade my brains and my life
The treatment that you planned needed some time
I cannot imagine how I would have got through that weekend
I cannot imagine

Had you plotted it all?
Your note reached me too soon
That same day, Friday afternoon
Posted in the morning
The prevalent devils expedited it
That was one more straw of ill luck
Drawn against you by the post office
And added to your load

I moved fast
Through the snow, blue, February London twilight
Wept with relief when you opened the door
A huddle of riddles in solution
Precocious tears that failed to interpret to me
Failed to divulge their real import

But what did you say
Over the smoking shards of that letter
So carefully annihilated
So calmly
That let me release you
And leave you to blow its ashes off your plan
Off the ashtray against which you would lean for me
To read the doctor’s phone number

My escape had become such a hunted thing
Sleepless, hopeless
All its dreams exhausted
Only wanting to be recaptured
Only wanting to drop out of its vacuum

Two days of dangling nothing
Two days gratias
Two days in no calendar
But stolen from no world
Beyond actuality, feeling, or name

My love life grabbed it
My numbed love life with its two mad needles
Embroidering their rose
Piercing and tugging at their tapestry
Their bloody tattoo somewhere behind my navel
Treading that morass of emblazon
Two mad needles, criss-crossing their stitches
Selecting among my nerves for their colors
Refashioning me, inside my own skin
Each refashioning the other
With their self-caricatures
Their obsessed in and out
Two women, each with her needle

That night, my della Robbia Susan
I moved with a circumspection of a flame and a fuse
My whole fury was an abandoned effort to blow up
The old globe where shadows
Bent over my telltale track of ashes
I raced from and from
Faced backwards, a film reversed
Towards what?

We went to Rugby Street
Where you and I began
Why did we go there?
Of all places, why did we go there?
Perversity in the artistry of our fate
Adjusted its refinements for you, for me, and for Susan
Solitaire, played by the minotaur of that maze
Even included Helen in the ground-floor flat
You’d noted her
A girl for a story
You never met her
Few ever met her
Except across the ears in raving mask of her Alsatian
You hadn’t even glimpsed her
You’d only recoiled when her demented animal
Crashed its weight against the door
As we slipped through the hallway
And heard it choking on infinite German hatred

That Sunday night
She eased her door open
Its few permitted inches
Susan greeted the black eyes
The unhappy, overweight, lovely face that peeped out
Across the little chain
The door closed
We heard her consoling her jailer inside her cell
Its kennel where days later
She gassed her ferocious cupo and herself

Susan and I spent that night in our wedding bed
I’d not seen it since we lay there on our wedding day
I didn’t take her back to my own bed
It had occurred to me your weekend over
You might appear
A surprise visitation
Did you appear to tap at my dark window?

So, I stayed with Susan
Hiding from you
In our own wedding bed
The same from which within three years
She would be taken to die in that same hospital
Where, within 12 hours, I would find you dead

Monday morning
I drove her to work in the city
Then parked my van north of Houston Road
And returned to where my telephone waited
At what position of the hands on my watchface
Did your last attempt
Already deeply past my being able to hear it
Shake the pillow of that empty bed
A last time
Lightly touch at my books and my papers
By the time I got there, my phone was asleep
The pillow innocent
My room slept
Already filled with the snowlit morning light
I lit my fire
I had got out my papers
And I’d started to write when the telephone jerked awake
In a jabbering alarm
Remembering everything
It recovered in my hand
Then a voice like a selected weapon
Or a measured injection
Coolly delivered its four words deep into my ear
“Your wife is dead”

One comment on “Last Letter – Ted Hughes
  1. Hughes tried. This is a powerful poem. As I said on FB, one can point to things Ted did wrong, he lived in more sexist and restricted times, but he is no more to blame ultimately for Sylvia’s death than Yoko was for the breakup of the Beatles. I read this a week or two ago, but lost track of it, thank you so much for posting the whole poem on your blog.

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