An anemometer tiptoes
in a nothing breeze. Allez, circulez.
Three eggcups sidewise.

A beech hedge shields
the ugly new development from sight.
An ankle thicker than a thigh.

‘It’s all ascesis, from here on in.’
A drip from the upstairs balcony
(the surplus from their geraniums)

convulses her potted lemon,
industrious thrushes turn over
every dry leaf in the shrubbery,

looking for God knows what. God wot.
The shy clang of bottles in the recycling,
a distant church bell, only which saint?

The slam of a car door – rude mechanicals –
the tiny movements of the hospice district.
Irrelevance or irritation. Meals or wheels.

The gaspy whistle of wood pigeons’ wings
and their little-brained Roo-coo-coo
anaesthetises another summer.

A bee taps against a pane.
The draught crosses from the open picture window
to the open veranda door, ‘your papers, please.’

Volunteers and a few veterans.
All weathered, yellowed, cracked.
Crimped lobelias reconstitute her blue-eyed stare.

The birch suite the colour of straw,
the furniture of a life in the future perfect.
Its half-remembered or half-forgotten stories.

Ready to go, ready to stop.
The there and the no longer there.
A panic button. Scents and smells.

A throne on the throne, an elevator in the bath.
‘The last shirt has no pockets.’
(That’s because it’s a shroud.)

The parquet and linen within.
To be here is to be her. All of it
so lived in and lived among,

so endlessly taken in by eye and ear,
a record of self-sufficiency,
historic click click no longer true.

Deeded amateur landscapes, a print
upside down, tweed linoleum in the kitchen,
a foursquare Fifties desk.

A lifelong orientation to light and colour,
optimistic as a flower, or better yet, a leaf.
Consolidated desolations.

Living on sunshine, sunshine and Baileys.
Baileys and discipline. Discipline and habit.
Habit and white grapes. Chiefly sunshine.

Her correct, quavery German.
The enunciating, excruciating visitor.
‘We go on living? Very well, we go on living.’

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London Review of Books,
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Vol. 43 No. 10 · 20 May 2021

I was very touched by Michael Hofmann’s poem ‘H.H., 95’ (LRB, 4 March). It was full of familiarities that I find somewhat alarming. It may be, though, that his wood pigeons (‘The gaspy whistle of wood pigeons’ wings/and their little-brained Roo-coo-coo/anaesthetises another summer’) are in fact, and in spite of their wings, collared doves, more delicate creatures, and relatively recent immigrants to the UK. Both species featured in an excruciating poem I wrote in my twenties when I thought I was a poet (‘The collared doves are busy in the wood./The cushie-doos are adding two to three/ … roucoule, roucoule their glutinous/monotony’).

The coo situation, as far as I know, is this. Feral pigeons or rock doves do two coos (debatable given the bubbliness of the call). Collared doves do three – ‘Roo-coo-coo’. White-winged doves of the South-Western United States, Mexico and Central America do four, at least in Austin, Texas. Wood pigeons do five, with a clipped sixth on the last call in a series (mourning doves also do five, very differently and with no clipped sixth).

The wood pigeons in Virginia Woolf’s The Years were Welsh, and said: ‘Take two coos, Taffy. Take two coos, Taffy. Take two coos, Taffy. Tak …’ This for some reason has haunted me. My father’s wood pigeons said: ‘You’ve rooined [ruined] it, you fool, you’ve rooined it you fool, you’ve rooined it, you fool, yo …’ He once commented on what he took to be an aberrant wood pigeon – it was in fact a pioneer collared dove – and Mary Warnock, who knew a bit about birds, said with some vehemence, ‘They’re French!’, to general merriment. (I once saw her take an axe to an incapacitated greater black-backed gull.) Collared doves did arrive in the UK from France, starting in the 1950s, but they were migrants originating in the Middle East.

Galen Strawson
London NW1

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