The Machine that Cried

Michael Hofmann

il n’y a pas de détail

Valéry

When I learned that my parents were returning
to Germany, and that I was to be jettisoned,
I gave a sudden lurch into infancy and Englishness.
Carpets again loomed large in my world: I sought out
their fabric and warmth, where there was nowhere to fall ...

I took up jigsaw puzzles, read mystical cricket thrillers
passing all understanding, even collected toy soldiers
and killed them with matchsticks fired from the World War One
field-guns I bought from Peter Oborn down the road –
he must have had something German, with that name –

who lived alone with his mother, like a man ...
My classmates were equipped with sexual insults
for the foaming lace of the English women playing Wimbledon,
but I watched them blandly on our rented set
behind drawn curtains, without ever getting the point.

My building-projects were as ambitious as the Tower of Babel.
Something automotive of my construction limped across the floor
to no purpose, only lugging its heavy battery.
Was there perhaps some future for Christian Barnard,
or the electric car, a milk-float groaning like a sacred heart?

I imagined Moog as von Moog, a mad German scientist.
His synthesiser was supposed to be the last word in versatility,
but when I first heard it on Chicory Tip’s
Son of my Father, it was just a unisono metallic drone,
five notes, as inhibited and pleonastic as the title.

My father bought a gramophone, a black box,
and played late Beethoven on it, which my mother was always
to associate with her miscarriage of that year.
I was forever carrying it up to my room,
and quietly playing through my infant collection of singles,

Led Zeppelin, The Tremoloes, My Sweet Lord ...
The drums cut like a scalpel across the other instruments.
Sometimes the turntable rotated slowly, then everything
went flat, and I thought how with a little more care
it could have been alright. There again, so many things

were undependable ... My first-ever British accent wavered
between Pakistani and Welsh. I called Bruce’s record shop
just for someone to talk to. He said, ‘Certainly, Madam.’
Weeks later, it was ‘Yes sir, you can bring your children.’
It seemed I had engineered my own birth in the new country.