When her grave opened its ugly mouth
Why didn’t you just fly,
Wrap yourself in your hair and make yourself scarce,
Why did you kneel down at the grave’s edge
To be identified
Accused and convicted
By all who held in their hands
Pieces of the gravestone grey granite
Proof of their innocence?
You must have misheard a sentence.
You were always mishearing
Into Hebrew or German
What was muttered in English.
Her grave mouthed its riddle right enough.
But maybe you heard in the air somewhere
An answer to one of your own
Unspoken enigmas. Misheard,
Mistook, and kneeled meekly.
Maybe they wouldn’t stone you
If you became a nun
And selflessly incinerated yourself
In the shrine of her death.
Because that is what you did. From that moment
Shops, jobs, baby daughter, the German au pair
Had to become mere shapes
In the offered-up flames, a kind of writhing
That enfolded you and devoured
Your whole life.
I watched you feeding the flames.
Why didn’t you wrap yourself in a carpet
Get to a hospital
Drop the whole mistake – simply call it
An error in translation?
Instead you fed those flames
Six full calendar years –
Every tarred and brimstone
Day torn carefully off,
One at a time, not one wasted, patient
As if you were feeding a child.
All you were doing was being strong,
Waiting for your ashes
To be complete and to cool.
Finally they made a small cairn.
- Ted Hughes