In the latest issue:

Botanic Macaroni

Steven Shapin

What made the Vikings tick?

Tom Shippey

In the Lab

Rupert Beale

Will there be a Brexit deal?

Anand Menon

Short Cuts: Under New Management

Rory Scothorne

Out-Tissoted

Bridget Alsdorf

Sarah Moss

Blake Morrison

Poem: ‘Country Music’

Ange Mlinko

On the Trail of Garibaldi

Tim Parks

Art Lessons

Peter Campbell

You’ll like it when you get there

Tom Crewe

Early Kermode

Stefan Collini

‘The Vanishing Half’

Joanna Biggs

At the Movies: ‘The Truth’

Michael Wood

The Suitcase: Part Two

Frances Stonor Saunders

Poem: ‘Siri U’

Jorie Graham

Diary: Getting into Esports

John Lanchester

ForgetfulnessMichael Hofmann
Close
Close

for Fred

‘Empiricism’ has been gone far more often than not;
I think I originally learned it in my teens.
Now I sometimes find it by alphabetising, but most of the time it’s gone and stays gone.
I don’t know if I dislike it because I can’t remember it, or I can’t remember it because I dislike it.
It’s as though it’s on permanent loan somewhere. Someone else’s problem.

I don’t know what would alarm me – really alarm me.
‘Galicia’ was gone. ‘Boarding pass’ recently disappeared for a while.
I keep a firm hold on ‘ocarina’ and ‘Hoffmeister’,
eschewing ‘Hoffman’ and ‘Hofmeister’ that tacky 1980s lager when German became respectable.
I do ‘Corona, Corona’ and ‘Corinna, Corinna’ and la Coruña. That’s the el camino one.

I walked thirty blocks the wrong way down Derision.
The ordered numbers seemed to make no sense.
I was unclear about Hamilton and Harrison. Weren’t they presidents?
If not, why not? Confound it, I didn’t know which way was up or west.
I hoped the Post Office might be a Travelodge, where I finally posted my letter.

‘Abstemious’ was gone for years, now I keep hold of it
by tethering it to ‘facetious’. What if ‘facetious’ goes? Imagine not knowing ‘facetious’.
It would help to have a crocodile, a street of crocodiles.
‘I was here yesterday, and I lost a brown glove,’
says a loud voice in a bar, not mine. Or not yet. Actually, it was a blue glove.

I get my Magyars mixed up. Was it Zsuzsa Rakovsky or Agnes Nemes Nagy? A or Z?
‘Deborah’ has displaced ‘Dorothea’, or was it vice versa. Now where are they?
I disappear into my room to look for a book,
and emerge hours later with the wrong one, or with none at all.
Tell me, is it ‘singular universality’ or ‘simple unavailability’?

Tiger-striped spectacles and a lazy eye.
‘How about I come over and make you forget all about him.’
That’s not me either, that’s for something called Grub Hub,
over a 10,000 calorie picture of alamode or miracle whip. There’s comfort.
Probably, come to think about it, the ‘him’ would be Grubby Hubby.

My spelling isn’t what it was. I talk when I have the words.
They are not always there when I talk.
I’m not sure if that makes me long-winded or delphic. Perhaps both.
I remember, I wrote ‘apotropaically’ once,
I wrote ‘anamorphosis’, I wrote ‘aporia’.

It’s 12/12/12. Rien ne va plus. ’Bout them Mayans.
The Pope has tweeted assurance, or his astronomers have. Toot sweet.
Comfort tweet. It’s not la Coruña at all, it’s Compostela. Ah, Stella.
Now, Vanessa, make a decision. The pilgrims with their scallop shells of quiet,
their Jakobsmuscheln, on their hats. Strange place for a shell, no.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences