First published in the April/May 1976 issue (Vol. 16 No. 1) of The London Magazine (ed. Alan Ross).
AFTER THERE WAS NOTHING THERE WAS A WOMAN
Whose face had reached her mirror
Via the vulture’s gullet
And the droppings of the wild dog, and she remembers it
Massaging her brow with cream
Whose breasts had come about
By long toil of earthworms
After many failures, but they were here now
And she protected them with silk
Lay as they did because they could not escape anything
They hung as it were in space
The targets of every bombardment
She had found her belly
In a clockwork pool, wound by the winding and unwinding sea.
First it was her toy, then she found its use
And curtained it with a flowered skirt.
It made her eyes shine.
She could see the excited wind flexing on the face of the water
She looked at the grass trembling among the worn stones
Having about as much comprehension as a lamb
Who stares round at everything simultaneously
With ant-like head and soldierly bearing
She had made it out but only just, just…
Near the door, under the square of light.
Only a fly
Landed on his lip.
He tried to feel death. He dreamed a person
Numbed in icy petroleum
Burning, and in the nest of flames
Becoming a huge cockroach –
That slowly raised a claw to point at him.
He tried to feel life.
He drew aside the curtain of a dead sparrow’s eye
That could once lift the head off him, like a chloroform –
It stared dull and worthless.
As if mountains had spoken.
As if he stood
In the mountainous after-silence
Hearing his voice crumble.
The whole earth
Had turned in its bed
To the wall.
Confesses his body
The gripful of daggers.
And confesses his skin – the bedaubed, begauded
His heart –
The soul-stuffed despot.
His stomach –
The corpse-eating god.
And his hard life-lust – the blind
Swan of insemination.
And his hard brain – the sacred assassin.
On a flame-horned mountain-stone, in the sun’s disc,
He heaps them all up, for the judgement.
So there his atoms are annealed, as in X-rays,
Of their blood-aberration –
His mudded body, lord of middens, like an ore,
To rainbowed clinker and beatitude.
FIRST, THE DOUBTFUL CHARTS OF SKIN
Came into my hands – I set out.
After some harmless, irrelevant marvels
And much boredom at sea
Came the wrecked landfall, sharp rocks, hands and knees
Then the small and large intestine, in their wet cave.
These gave me pause.
Then came the web of veins
Where I hung so long
For the giant spider’s pleasure, twitching in the darkest corner.
After the skull-hill of visions and the battle in the valley of screams
After the islands of women
I came to loose bones
On a heathery moor, and a roofless church.
Wild horses, with blowing tails and manes,
Standing among graves.
And a leaning menhir, with my name on it.
And an epitaph, which read:
‘Under this rock, he found weapons.’
BY TED HUGHES