Derrick

Michael Hofmann

That rather sprawling
foursquare spelling. Always
in my mind half-
associated with the hirsute
14-year-old I saw
in the newspaper
who sued his local

education authority
to keep his beard
from a sort of medical
necessity. My neighbour
took up residence
next to this youth
in my head. Derrick.

Clean-shaven, Welsh,
heavyset, lugubrious,
his steel-grey hair
apparently parted
by a steel comb.
Tracksuit bottoms,
graphite racket, retired

from something or other,
maybe ex-army.
A plangent sonorousness.
If I have it right,
India. A grandfather
in spe, then fact.
He was shy, I was shy.

At the height of things
he fed me clippings
from the Telegraph,
and we talked about
militaria (I was translating
Ernst Jünger –
not in time for him).

Some village-y gene
had given him
the atavistic habit
of standing outside
his front door for hours
arms crossed,
surveying the scene.

Perhaps a swagger-stick
to take the parade.
He knew the street
as I didn’t know him,
spent years setting plants
and persecuting graffiti
in a tiny doggy flowerbed

under the railway bridge,
played tennis
on the corporation courts,
kept an ear open
for the local scuttlebutt.
Like a hardy perennial
he stood there

under his wife’s hollyhocks –
now both under the ground,
sudden heart attack (he),
years of chemotherapy
at the Royal Free and Easy (she),
buried from St Dominic’s
down the road,

the orphaned court,
the problematic flowerbed
improbably flowering,
the neighbours shuffling past
the hollyhocks (pink),
more local connections
than I’ll ever have.