1st December 2003 and 23rd November 2005 – Frieda Hughes and John Kinsella


    1st December 2003
    Dear John,
    Counting Blessings.

    I put aside the idea of
    A letter-poem in May, in answer
    To your email – to visit
    A friend in Melbourne
    Who was dying of cancer.
    We’d visit the husband’s father too,
    But a week before we left we knew
    He was dead, his wife
    Too boiled in spite to grieve,
    Having kept him broken-legged
    In the bed, a fortnight until
    A blood-clot got him
    And he could finally leave.

    We visited death every day
    As it took up residence in our friend’s face,
    Her skin, its mask,
    The scar on her bald skull
    Not as wide as her smile,
    Her fingers knitting up her past,
    Her present and the time left last
    As she spoke, as frank as the saw
    That cut her head open,
    As if she’d knit up the cranial hole
    And restrain her evaporating soul.
    Hours with her were delicate straws – like glass,
    Clasp too hard and all that’s left
    Are scars and shards to mark the loss.

    Back in England whole dead trees
    Piled on the mat by the mailbox,
    Sliced, pulped and rollered through printers,
    They’d collected in heaps. It took weeks
    To undo all the things delayed
    Until I got back to letters in May.

    We forgot our wedding anniversary
    For the seventh time today.
    I was reminded by dating
    The back of a dog painting,
    Realising she was as old as our marriage.
    We ate pizza from cardboard
    And drank Veuve Clicquot
    From fish-stemmed glasses,
    Bought on a walk in New York,
    And for a few moments watched
    Each other’s colours sink
    Back into the stain
    Of our outlines, illuminating
    Our deep breath before the next
    Upheaval scatters our purpose again.


    23rd November 2005
    Dear Frieda,
    Belatedly — very belatedly,
    I am replying to your letter-poem,
    your epistle. I am working on a book
    with the working title First Meetings
    with Poets, and you’re the subject
    of one of the chapters. And that
    got me to thinking about text
    as the first and truest
    of meetings, that ‘in-person’
    supplements the poems,
    the emails… increasingly,
    and not the other way around.
    But then, whole friendships
    have been historically
    conducted through letters —
    Elizabeth Barrett, though she finally
    met her close but distant neighbour,
    Boyd, becoming his scribe…
    At the moment, for me, it’s all neologisms.
    Oh, I did draft an earlier letter — god,
    it would be over two years ago now,
    not long after receiving yours…
    ironically, I’d just got back
    from outside Australia — there’s Australia,
    and then there’s ‘outside Australia’ —
    as you know — when a horrendous accident
    (choppers, numerous police cars,
    even a crane to remove steel rods that had broken loose
    from a semi — we later heard it was the local
    MP’s wife who had been crushed
    under the vernichteten weight) caused
    all traffic to be diverted before the Chidlows turn-off,
    via Wooroloo, onto the Great Eastern Highway,
    then back south to the Lakes to hook up
    with the Great Southern Highway…
    I drove down the Great Southern this morning…
    three days on the same road I suffered a kind of death,
    sucked into vacuum by a speeding truck,
    blanking out and thinking hell,
    I’m caught in some kind of vortex,
    I’m still driving, but driving dead…
    seriously, no joke…
    full moon has meant roos out
    and the gravel shoulders
    are littered with carcasses
    caught in that supine praying position
    (there’s no parody in this)…
    I can’t stop thinking about Paul Celan’s ‘ichten’,
    and the paranoia that keeps you constantly
    looking in the mirror, watching out
    for police traps…
    looped together in myth,
    we can’t talk our way out of allegory
    or cause and effect,
    as trapped in the body of text
    is the archetypal flower
    that pokes its head up
    to be lopped off: I saw this
    when the birds undid the sheep,
    when the sheep ate the grass
    and there was nothing left.

    John Kinsella