Seven Poems

Michael Hofmann

Phase

I live in Berkeleyan hostility
With my parents. The fridge bellows
Like a young tractor. Very soon I shall
Run away and join the Vatican Guard.

Back Numbers

Carelessly we tore our love
Like soft newspapers with feet.
Then stooping down, we read
With interest some vintage items.

Carnal Poem

Birds came and pecked at
a group of yellow bread crusts
scattered on a low roof.

She lay on her belly on the
floor, sncakered feet in the air,
copying reproductive systems.

Lord B. and Others

Yoghurt and garlic-pills, Balkan products
that feed on the myth of immortality
in South-Eastern Europe; based on
the continuing survival of generations
of gypsy violinists and fortune-tellers
born before the birth-certificate.
A weather-beaten old gent on a poster
in a chemist’s chop; glaring; below him,
his ambiguous life-enhancing statement:
‘It’s not how old you are that matters,
it’s how old you feel.’ Crossing the Alps,
the spectre of Shelley’s sister-in-law
following him, pregnant with his child,
Byron stopped at an inn and surrendered
his passport; then entered name and address
on the printed form, giving his age as
‘a hundred’. When he died, eight years later,
still only thirty-six, his heart and brain
were accordingly found to be quite used up –
‘those of an old man’, a devout particular
in his French romancicr’s biography.

Alone

Through clouds of sawdust and amid metro-
nomic applause, the single brown spotlight
wilts. I get up from my ringside seat,
somewhere in Central Europe, scurrilous
but comparatively immaculate in my
Tails and top-hat, whip and waxed moustaches,
and invite my lions, all of whom are
permanently defaced by strange blemishes,
to sit up on the tubs of their choice;
(Ladies and gentlemen!)

Tradition and the Individual Talent

In front of the station is the house and park
of the Thurn-and-Taxis family, known locally
as Thurn-and-Texas on account of their wealth
and importance. It is a rare instance of a large
private estate situated in the middle of a town
a stone’s throw away from the Wimpy Bar.
The house is said to be bigger than Buckingham
Palace, though from the outside, it doesn’t
look it. The family started off as postmen
under Charles V; it ensured its survival
by miscarrying enemy mail, and grew prosperous
by taking out cheques and postal orders.
In these more legal times, it owns a brewery:
the beer has a monopoly of sale on their land.
Now the family consists of two brothers,
one the richest and oldest playboy in Germany,
and the younger, named after a local church,
using his money and influence to set up
a monastic order in his name.

To a Classics Professor (1806)

‘Years ago you were just a poor student.
Until your professor took you under his wing;
he lodged you, found small jobs for you to do,
helped you in your idealistic clashes with
the authorities, completed your education.
When he died, the ghost of gratitude prompted
you to marry his widow, adopt his children.
– You might as well have married your mother.
Now you’ve become a professor, a public
servant with two consultation hours per week
– you put away your pipe if a student objects –
spending your Sundays on the dictaphone
to your secretary, organising next week’s
correspondence. I don’t know what I see in you.
You criticise my passionate letters, then
burn them for safety. In return, you write me
Latin tags, stoical philosophy boiled dry.
I placed a knife under my white left breast
(which you’ve never seen), broke the skin
and sent you my heart’s blood on a handkerchief.
You always feel sorry for your wife. Think
of yourself for a change ... When my body
is washed up round the next bend in the river,
will that remind you of Tom Sawyer?’