On a Copy of Ted Hughes’ New and Selected Inscribed by a Mr. Blake

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The battered book fell into my hands
from a high shelf in a second-hand store
where poetry edged a kingdom
almost as archaic as Elmet. Silvered, tarnished,
as endearing as this day’s epigraph of snow.
The inscription in black ink gifts it
from teacher to student, prep or public school
graduate, who must have seemed a comrade,
one whose grammar had improved or was
particularly fine. The teacher, Blake, wrote
in a bold retro hand, in controlled loops
with a fountain pen. Graphology suggests he
was a “character”—what we once called
an “eccentric”: focused, introspective,
likely to restrict himself in some way;
open-minded, but not quite following
the heart. In the inscription, it’s 1993, “Loser”
and “All Apologies” roll with smoke from
the open windows of cars in the student lot,
but in the uniform flannels of grunge, his charges’
bespoke poems, Blake glimpsed a touching
sincerity and hoped to fan inspiration’s
flames. Blake (the engraver) would have despised
the land-locked shopping plaza where the New
and Selected surfaced: the mind-forged manacles
of commerce. Hughes loved the tors, Devon’s
tannic soil, and carried an ancient rucksack
to stash salmon and sea trout pulled on lines
from the Dart and the Taw. But the reader
who tossed Blake’s gift book to the winds and wilds
of fate? Today, he writes copy, memos; reads
for pleasure (maybe) or hardly at all, his prospects
less bright than Blake hoped—or, conversely, brighter:
a titan of startups and spreadsheets, no ink blots
on shirt sleeves, he always flies first class. I, too,
have lost books I loved, their spines split
in M-bags shipped across the Atlantic,
in satchels shouldered through security,
their covers bleached by years of sunlight.
It’s anyone’s guess why Blake’s protégé
jettisoned this gift entrusted for his
future—did he fear being singled out?

For him, perhaps, the ceremony of words
paled when compared to doing donuts
on the school’s front lawn, wind riffling
his bangs, fist pumps on the final day. Still,
maybe sometimes, in pursuit of promotion
or profit, he remembers that model
of teacherly kindness, and more: old lecture notes
thrown out, some of elegy’s finer points. But now
the cat is purring beside me—Blake and his
student are who knows where—and I’m winding
down at day’s end, as most of us do: with a little
something to sip, as a plow clanks through banked
snow outside, silver, tarnished,
leaving a hush that’s seismic.