Ted Hughes has died and gone to Hell.

Most of the time he died as a human,

Almost every time with his eyes open.

The first time he died,

he was a woman

crawling on hands and knees,

through the churning belly of a factory:

with spindles, the spools, the creaking levers

with copper dust in the air.

Her hair caught in the gears,

lured her silent body into the cogs,

the way the smiling bridegroom

summons the bride.

This was the only time he died as a woman.

Twice he died as an animal:

once as a koala,

the tiny thing had stolen

into some woman’s backyard.

It was not Australia

or even New Zealand.

It was Yorkshire.

Yorkshire with its blue roads

Yorkshire with its red grass.

How did it get to Yorkshire?

As they tried to capture it,

the thing hissed like it

had swallowed a branding iron.

It took them a full ten minutes

and three men to wrench its

obsidian claws from the

soft flesh of the Eucalyptus tree.

When they finally did,

its back was broke.

A girl saw his furry body,

and said how cute he was:

still a bit warm,

mouth frozen like it was yawning,

or trying to swallow something big.

The second time was

as a caterpilliar in an orchard.

It moved irrevocably on the leaf.

When you are that small,

a leaf does not look flat;

instead, you can see each green cell;

You can hold each one up

like you would a precious stone—

spin it like a globe—

taste it not all at once but in parts:

first, the membrane:

it is hard and it is bitter:

the shell of a very old tortoise:

then the golgi, with its crunch

like eating a rabbit without cooking it,

skinning it, even killing it:

the mitochondria—they are tasteless,

odorless, soundless, voiceless.

In the center is a nucleus

like an egg, it throbs dark with fertility.

As a caterpillar,

it is very unwise

to eat this part.

But Ted Hughes did.


Many times Ted Hughes died as a boy.

Only once as a girl,

surrounded by girls,

in a tent that glowed from the inside,

in the middle of a field.

She wears a diamond necklace

that was her sister’s,

She wears a turquoise ring,

that is still her mother’s

and will always be her mother’s.

She is silent, glowing:

a paper lantern.


Ted Hughes died many times.

The final time:

with two friends, and with seven

tea cups on a shelf;

they sat in a delicate row:

polite as children in a pew

not listening to a sermon.

Ted Hughes mumbled

his final words

into the half dark:

I am a male witch.

I am a warlock.

His finger pointed at the tea-cups—

He could feel something coming,

something that was a long time coming,

something that was buried

but no longer dead—

It was a touch upon his shoulder,

soft, almost imperceptible,

like the feet of a caterpillar on a leaf.

It was the last poem he would never write

whispered into his ear.


Ted Hughes has died and gone to Hell.

He died half-drunk. He died, in the presence

of two friends and seven polite tea-cups.

He would have commanded them to move

with his magic in his fingers, in each cell,

made them slide one by one,

crawling all at once, like empty train cars—

or the way only a caterpillar knows how to move:

beginning, middle, end.

End, middle beginning.

He would have moved them all with his poetry,

his magic, his black magic, his white magic—

He would have sent them crashing with

a devil’s wink from his turquoise eyes,

with the careful way they glowed

like the shoulders of a girl at a dance—

—with his breath that smelled like

the raw scent of a bear, with his chin

that jutted like the bow of a boat—

with his finger as thick

as a carrot in the earth—


Ted Hughes has died, and Ted Hughes has gone to Hell

Hell, he says, is not great

but ok, and even good sometimes.

When it is not good,

it is like being homeless—

cold, smelling like

the bad side of a city,

with that unavoidable shame

that groans, swallows, devours—

buzzing like a black hole in the tired gut.


Ted Hughes has died.

In Hell, he finds his peaceful moments—

moments to be a tea-cup, falling—

moments to be a finger, pointing at a tea cup—

moments to be the shoulder of a young girl—

moments to be the girl, understanding her body for the first time—

moments to be the glow of a paper lantern—

moments to be a carrot, uneaten, rotting in the earth—

But when Hell is good,

it is becoming forever

and forever becoming,

what you have always wanted to be.

Ted Hughes is in Hell:

there he is a school teacher—

leading a line of children

across the street.

When Hell is very good,

he is surrounded by children.

They are too many to count.

And they are kindergartners:

Hell, when it is very good,

is like leading a row of kindergartners,

walking all at once, or chugging along,

the way only the caterpillar knows.

The sky is blue, like in a drawing.

Hell, when it is the best kind of Hell,

is like holding one of your hands—

big and soft as a bear paw—

with one of their tiny hands

as they hold hands with each other,

till they get clammy with sweat.

If you need to,

you wipe them off

on your corduroy pants,

grab hold of hands again

to continue crossing.