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Three PoemsMichael Hofmann
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Doctors

I think he must have foreseen everything, even this:
his name, ‘Dr Gen Hofmann’ – mortuary punctilio! –
in brass, himself tipped up in a medium coffin,

a mite of disgust on his face
while the other side of the plateglass two children,
windowshopping, gawp at their first corpse.

There wasn’t, as he discovered, a career in it,
but he never underestimated the morbidity of children.
To his future in-laws as a young man

he ‘lacked innocence’. (Strange requirement:
innocence of the young!) To my mother he proposed
an association against marriage. Later he proposed.

It was Chekhov who said where there are too many cures
the patient must reckon with the worst
– death not cure.

And so he foresaw the pages of strenuous doctor’s prose
(lacking innocence, I would say) the doctors
wrote my mother when he died.

He foresaw his car unhoused and on the street,
while the doctor moving in garages his own.
The doctor stretching his patience, displaying

consideration, while his overbearing children play,
look out powerpoints for their televisions, itching
to tear down the bookshelves and inherit the earth.

Cheltenham

The nouveau oil building
spoils the old water town, spook town, old folks’ town.
My old parents, like something out of le Carré,
shuffle round the double Georgian square

tracing figures of eight, endless figures of eight,
defected ice dance trainers or frozen old spooks,
patinage, badinage,
reminiscence with silences.

Then a family event if ever there was one:
my mother reads my translation of my father,
who hasn’t read aloud since his ‘event’.
Darkness falls outside. Inside too.

Ted Hughes is in the small audience,
and afterwards asks my father
whether he ever, like an Inuit,
dreamed of his own defeat and death.

My father, who’s heard some questions, but never anything
like this, doesn’t know Ted Hughes,
perhaps hears ‘idiot’, gives an indignant no
in his miraculously clear English.

More laps of the marred green,
the pink sky silts down, a November afternoon
by the clock, his last in England.
The days brutally short; a grumpy early night.

What happens

Blood heat at the place of the bleeding, base
of the skull, a new scowling set to my mouth,
scattiness, contempt, emulousness, laughter
the hysterical use of the present tense.

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