Three Poems

Michael Hofmann

An Education

For James, again

At the old Tramontana
on Tottenham Court Road
among the hi-fi shops
I learned to order

what you ordered,
not studenty noodles
but sophisticated things
like the special.

After years of our
playing at lunch
the faithful waiter shook himself
to death with Parkinson’s

practically before our eyes.
(I remember the rattle
and slop of one last
saucerful of coffee.)

One afternoon,
when we no longer went there
like Hem to the War,
I saw Joseph Brodsky

sitting in the window
with paper and a cigarette,
the recording angel,
miles away.

Reported Speech

It’s just abstract, you say: when I’m not here,
I don’t exist and my perspectives are warped.
Nostalgia, the bloom of recollection –
a false spring ... You can’t run your life
by these conceits like productivity agreements.

... It’s a holiday of some sort.
The music on the radio is for kissing.
You go to visit your thin-lipped friend,
who happens to be a musician himself.

You drink wine and sit at a table
and talk. Some things you talk around.
Then you are on the same side of the table.
He has some Durex, you let him fuck you.
– He was kind of lonesome, as the words go.

Litany

For Robin Robertson

Dear god,

        let me remember these months of transition
in a room on the Harrow Road, the traffic
muffled by a plastic sheet, the facing ziggurats
with their satellite dishes and tea-towels out to dry,
a lengthwise Brazilian flag curtaining one window,

indigents and fellow aliens and oddballs in the street,
the wobbly eyes I mistakenly looked into, wobbly and then
suddenly murderous, the fat friendly ladies and truanting children,
West Indian barbers and Lebanese grocers eating on the job,
the line of a hundred people outside the post office
at a minute to nine on Monday morning,

the pallet, table and two chairs
in the room at the top of the sharp and loose coir staircase,
a kettle and ashtray before I remembered about food,
the streetlamp almost within reach to slide down, fireman-style,
im Falle eines Falles,
the reflections of car windscreens bouncing on the ceiling,

the solicitous Irish landlady, Marie’s sister, saying
‘Are you alright? Now are you sure you’re alright?’
the canal at the back, seedy as Xochimilco,
the May air full of seeds, alder and plane and sycamore,
generative fluff, myself fluffy and generative,
wild-haired and with the taste of L. in my mouth,

the office workers opposite
very evidently pissing behind milk-glass,
goslings and baby coots without the white stripe as yet,
attack dogs defecating on the grass,
the occasional putter of narrowboats, industrial
and bucolic as canals are industrial and bucolic,

the velvet curtains slowly turning to dust on the woodwormed rail,
my diminished establishment of bin-liners and suitcase
(our 1961 cardboard family ‘Revelation’),
the Olympia Traveller I lugged around Mexico and two pairs of boots,
otherwise silence and light and dust and flies,
so hungry I picked the bin when I visited my children,

the steel doors and squats of Walterton and Elgin
from the days before pastel paint, a hulking unmistakable school
on the light industrial skyline, barbed wire, coupling pigeons,
yellow brick and corrugated Homebase prefab, living for nightfall
and the bus that took me round the houses
to heaven.