Sunday, April 12, 2009


I haven't been keeping up with the news as well as I might. So it wasn't until today, when I saw the article on the front of the New York Times, "A New Chapter of Grief in Plath-Hughes Legacy," that I learned of Nicholas Hughes's suicide.

He was an academic. He studied fish. Ecologies. He lived in Fairbanks, Alaska.

According to the article, he never talked about his parents, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. His life was quite apart from that legacy. He directed dissertations. He wrote proposals for internal grants. Like one for "Video analysis/editing workstation for graduate students and faculty of the UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences (SFOS)." He gave talks for his department: "Developing the Theory Needed to Predict the Migratory Routes and Distribution of Salmon at Sea."

He was an academic. An ordinary academic. And one suffering from a malady not uncommon among academics: depression.

But I would never have learned of his death were it not for his parents. And the sadness from anyone's death seems magnified by the tragedy of his mother's death.

And since he never talked of his mother, who died when he was still a baby, it seems something less than appropriate to bring forth a poem from her. And yet it's what I can't get out of my head. And so here it is, a poem I've taught, in my own academic life. Students have commented that she put too much pressure on the little baby. I've always felt the turn toward the baby is one of the most moving tonal shifts I know of. "Nick and the Candlestick."

I am a miner. The light burns blue.
Waxy stalactites
Drip and thicken, tears

The earthen womb

Exudes from its dead boredom.
Black bat airs

Wrap me, raggy shawls,
Cold homicides.
They weld to me like plums.

Old cave of calcium
Icicles, old echoer.
Even the newts are white,

Those holy Joes.
And the fish, the fish----
Christ! They are panes of ice,

A vice of knives,
A piranha
Religion, drinking

Its first communion out of my live toes.
The candle
Gulps and recovers its small altitude,

Its yellows hearten.
O love, how did you get here?
O embryo

Remembering, even in sleep,
Your crossed position.
The blood blooms clean

In you, ruby.
The pain
You wake to is not yours.

Love, love,
I have hung our cave with roses.
With soft rugs----

The last of Victoriana.
Let the stars
Plummet to their dark address,

Let the mercuric
Atoms that cripple drip
Into the terrible well,

You are the one
Solid the spaces lean on, envious.
You are the baby in the barn.