Poem introduction

'Ted Hughes is Elvis Presley ' is about the fact that I thought that towards the end of his life, Ted Hughes became a bit of a star in that Elvis Presley way, and also I thought I've never seen Ted and Elvis in the same room, and perhaps they are the same person.

Ted Hughes is Elvis Presley

Ted Hughes is Elvis Presley

I didn't die
that hot August night.
I faked it,

stuffed a barrage balloon
into a jump suit.
Left it slumped
on the bathroom floor.

Hitched a ride on a rig
rolling to New York. Climbed
into the rig, the driver said
'Hey, you're...'
'Yeah, The Big Bopper. I faked it,
never died in that 'plane crash.
Keep it under your lid.'
I tapped his hat with my porky fingers.
He nodded. We shared a big secret.

Laid low a while in New York.
Saw my funeral on TV in a midtown bar.
A woman wept on the next stool but one.

'He was everything to me. Everything.
I have a hank of his hair in my bathroom
and one of his shoelaces
taped to my shoulderblade.'

'He was a slob,' I said.
She looked at me like I was poison.
'He was too, too big,' I said.
'He wanted to be small, like
a little fish you might find in a little pond.'

I needed a new identity.
People were looking at me.
A guy on the subway asked me
if I was Richie Valens.

So I jumped a tramp steamer
heading for England.
Worked my passage as a cook,
In storms the eggs
slid off the skillet.

Made my way to London.
Saw a guy, big guy, guy with a briefcase.
Followed him down the alley,
I put my blade into his gut
and as the blood shot
I became him
like mamma used to say
the loaf became Jesus.

I am Elvis Presley.
I am Ted Hughes.

At my poetry readings I sneer and rock my hips
I stride the moors
in a white satin jump suit,
bloated as the full moon.

Bless my soul,
what's wrong with me?

At night I sit in my room
and I write, and the great bulbous me
slaps a huge shadow on the wall,

I am writing a poem
about the death of the Queen Mother
but it won't come right.

I look up. Outside a fox peers at me.
I sing softly to it,
strumming my guitar.

Soon, all the foxes
and the jaguars and the pigs
and the crows are gathering
outside my window, peering in.

I sing 'Wooden Heart', 'Blue Hawaii'.
There is the small applause
of paws and feathers.

I am Ted Hughes. I am Elvis Presley.
I am down at the end of a lonely street
and a jump suit rots in a southern coffin
as people pay their respects to a barrage balloon.

I sit here,
I can feel the evening shrinking me
smaller and smaller.
I have almost gone. Ted,
three inches long, perfect,
Elvis, Ted.

from Dad, the Donkey's on Fire: Poems from A Chin? (Carcanet, 1994), copyright © Ian McMillan 1994, used by permission of the author

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Ian McMillan

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