The Rag Rug by Ted Hughes
Somebody had made one. You admired it.
So you began to make your rag rug.
You needed to do it. Played on by lightnings
You needed an earth. Maybe. Or needed
To pull something out of yourself -
Some tapeworm of the psyche. I was simply
Happy to watch your scissors being fearless
As you sliced your old wool dresses,
Your cast-offs, once so costly,
Into bandages. Dark venous blood,
Daffodil yellow. You plaited them
Into a rope. You massaged them
Into the new life of a motley viper
That writhed out of the grave
Of your wardrobe. Like the buried wrapping
Of old mummy non-selves. You bowed
Like a potter
Over the turning hub of your rich rag rug
That widened its wheel,
Searching out the perimeter of a music-
The tongues of the loose ends flickering in air.
Issuing like a fugue out of the whorls
Of your fingertips. It calmed you,
Creating the serpent that coiled
Into a carpet. And the carpet
Lifted us, as it turned and returned,
Out of that crimson room of our cardiac days.
It freed me. It freed you
To do something that seemed almost nothing.
Whenever you worked at your carpet I felt happy.
Then I could read Conrad's novels to you.
I could cradle your freed mind in my voice,
Chapter by chapter, sentence by sentence,
Word by word: The Heart of Darkness,
The Secret Sharer. The same, I could feel
Your fingers caressing my reading, hour after hour,
Fitting together the serpent's jumbled rainbow.
I was like the snake-charmer - my voice
Swaying you over your heaped coils. While you
Unearthed something deeper than our verses.
A knowledge like the halves of a broken magnet.
Those long, crimson-shadowed evenings of ours
More like the breath-held camera moments
Of reaching to touch a falcon that does not fly off.
As if I held your hand to stroke a falcon
With your hand.
Later (not much later)
Your diary confided to whoever
What furies you bled into that rug.
As if you had dragged, like your own entrails,
Out through your navel.
Was I the child or the mother? Did you braid it,
That umbilicus between us,
To free yourself from my contraction or was it
Pushing me out and away? Did you coil it,
Your emergency magic operation,
To draw off the tangle of numb distance
Secreting itself between us? Or was it
A drooled curse
From some old bitter woman's rusty mouth
That stays awake when she sleeps - her malediction
Spellbinding tiered labyrinths of confusion
Into the breadth of a hearth-rug? The coils,
Impassable, became a mamba, fatal.
Its gentle tap, when you trod on it for finality,
Would alter your blood. When I stepped over it
Would alter my nerves and brain.
Before we ever found it. A great snake
Lifted its head from a well in the middle of the house
Exactly where the well is, beneath a slab,
In the middle of the house.
A golden serpent, thick as a child's body,
Eased from the opened well. And poured out
Through the back door, a length that seemed unending–
Till its tail tapered over the threshold,
The deep-worn, cracked threshold, soon to be ours.
That was after the whole house, in my dream,
Had capsized. And a perfect replica
Double of the house–the well-world's own
Upside-down reflection duplicate–
Had swung uppermost, and locked upright
Under its different stars, with an earthquake jolt,
Shaking the snake awake.
The rag rug
That had heaped out onto your lap
Slid to the floor. There it lay, coiled
Between us. However it came,
And wherever it found its tongue, its fang, its meaning,
It survived our Eden.