Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, North Tawton

21 07 2014

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We scoured the map for North Tawton and saw it pulse almost in the centre of the county; it was, fortuitously, only miles away from the cottage we were renting.  It took minutes to find the village, moments to find the blue plaque commemorating Ted Hughes’ life there.  The landlord of a pub, rolling barrels into a thirsty cellar, reluctantly pointed the way, behind the churchyard’s arrowhead spire, to the house.  We brushed our hands against the fingernail-thin gravestones on the channelled track and found a view over a lush land lake of a garden.  

Hughes’ wife Carol, the daughter of Jack Orchard, who later ran Moortown Farm (subject of the poet’s collection ‘Moortown Diary’) near Winkleigh, still lives in the home but the site is better known as the home he shared with both Sylvia Plath and Assia Wevill.  From a horse chestnut tree that leaned from the garden to the graveyard, I unhinged a conker; it looked too juvenile to contain anything inside the fruit. 

I saw
The dreamer in her
Had fallen in love with me and she did not know it.
That moment the dreamer in me
Fell in love with her, and I knew it.

Ted Hughes, Dreamers, Birthday Letters

 

Fumy, spirituous mists inhabit this place

Separated from my house by a row of headstones.

I simply cannot see where there is to get to. Sylvia Plath, The Moon and the Yew Tree

 

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The Fifty Move Rule

19 10 2013

The intended reason for the rule is so that a chess player with no chance to win cannot be obstinate and play on indefinitely or seek a win purely due to an opponent’s fatigue.

She edges closer in dreamy dark,
‘he should sleep through now.’
Check. Scratched from safety,
he blunders an arm between them. She moves
away. An exchange of sighs.

Desperate to resign.

Isolated pieces patrol, paring trenches
paralleling harmlessly. The board is dusty;
his turn. The game is torpid; his turn.
The intercom invites him with songthrush,
stream, sonata and he is teased to tiredness
by a baby’s breaths. A vicarious sleep.

A flare of sound, a firework of panic
and he chooses carelessly. Reading
the black like Braille, stumbling
towards the baby’s wail,
he pauses to take
down dressing gown
and she is there to turn
on lights, offer advice.

He follows her around the board,
swapping territory, holding hopes
giving ground, facing stalemate in silence.
He plays at parenthood.





The Girl with a Ponytail (Picasso, 1954)

27 03 2013

(published in Cheval 4)

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Subtle, for him. Understated. Flattering even.

That first painting was angled with beauty enough

to lure me. Postman blue, pond green. Shy lips

and one eye, wide enough for two.

 

He sketched me furiously in June. Always

demanding my hair tumbled. Winding my fringe

between oily fingertips, breathing wine,

gesturing bottle after glass.

 

Every portrait a picture of a sculpture,

a Greek bust in Gallic July dress.

 

The signature brought the world to Vallauris

and each time I smiled at the cameras,

dimpled when he shared the lens. He painted

in the evening only now. His colours

darkened and he insisted my collar

inched lower to reveal secrets I would not tell.

 

In the last nights he sat me on his knees

I confessed he had become my second father.

He was sullen in August and relinquished

with the final composition, without goodbye.

 

The final painting revealed only my naivete: 

my ponytail a noose for an old man to risk

his reputation, my breasts a rectangle of

rheumatic grey. My webbed ringlets, a duplicitous stare

and my fingers knotted in his frustration.





Reasons I won’t ask him

27 12 2012

He’ll tell me the foundations aren’t level
while scratching at the corner of his eyebrows
until I sulk off.

I’ll hand him tea in soily cup
as he pegs out right angles in string
and asks me to fetch the post mix
from the boot.

‘It’s an easy mistake Son,’ he’ll say
sketching on to the plans where the door
should’ve gone. Then he’ll build
a shed from the panels I ignored
in the alleyway since spring.

He’ll need someone to foot the ladders
he brought and I should pin the felt down
in the corners he can’t stretch to anymore.

Mum might bring the baby out to play
on the balding grass, joke about men at work
and we may all pretend that’s the truth.

After the brushes are cleaned
he’ll pour the tea away,
wash the mugs.





Rubbing

11 12 2012

(Published in Roundyhouse vol.35)

There’s a smudge on the page, I’ve noticed,
from when I sketched
you brushing your hair in the long mirror
with your hands.

This isn’t the sheet i drew
the distant seagulls of your sides
or discovered how your tresses grew
in seven, quick months.

Here. Here, is the tip of elbow you scratched
on the hawthorn by the path. Here
the treasure of freckles, roused
from hibernation.

Near the top of the book the binding loosens,
the spine sags, the sketch a memory.
But the graphite flower had been pressed
enough to leave its reflection.

Behind each word you see here
is a grainy rubbing of your shape.
Dip your fingers into the words and feel
how everything is becoming you.





Old Coat

27 10 2012

The scent slid in like evening tide,

familiar as the retriever on the lane,

as remote as linnets in summer grass,

but always it surfaced in the rain.

 

Apples, cinnamon, freesia. Whitebait kissing

bubbles on the surface of the pool.

 

Musk, jasmine, sandalwood. Tortoiseshell wings

flowering from cotton crypts.

 

Citrus, rose, lavender. Gutters giggling

down water in the alleyway.

Always it surfaced in the rain.

 

The trace of the potion was the pocket of a raincoat,

a tissue rested between the dark spaces. Smells

swelling in hibernation.

 

I left our past in the tissue, left the tissue in the coat, left the coat in the cupboard.