By Michael Hofmann b. 1957 Michael Hofmann
Another one of those Pyrrhic experiences. Call it
an expyrrhience. A day at Lords, mostly rain,
one of those long-drawn-out draws so perplexing to Americans.

Nothing riding on the game, two mid-table counties
at the end of a disappointing season, no local rivalry or anything like that,
very few people there, the game itself going nowhere slowly

on its last morning. The deadest of dead rubbers.
Papa had his beer, but you two must have wondered what you’d done wrong.
Did I say it was raining, and the forecast was for more rain?

Riveting. A way, at best, for the English
to read their newspapers out of doors, and get vaguely shirty
or hot under the collar about something. The paper, maybe, or the rain.

Occasionally lifting their eyes to watch the groundsmen at their antics,
not just hope over experience but hope over certain knowledge.
It was like staying to watch your horse lose.

And yet there was some residual sense of good fortune to be there,
perhaps it was the fresh air or being safely out of range of conversation
or the infinitesimal prospect of infinitesimal entertainment.

One groundsman—the picador—mounted on a tractor,
others on foot, like an army of clowns, with buckets and besoms.
The tractor was towing a rope across the outfield to dry it—

we saw the water spray up, almost in slow motion—
as from newly cut hair. The old rope was so endearingly vieux jeu.
It approached a pile of sawdust—two failing styles of drying—

and one of the groundsmen put out his foot to casually flick it over,
as sporting a gesture as we expected to see all day
in terms of finesse, economy of movement, timing.

He missed, and instead the rope sliced right through the sawdust pile,
and flattened it. A malicious laugh, widely dispersed and yet unexpectedly hearty,
went up on all sides of the ground. Soft knocks that school a lifetime—no?

Source: Poetry (June 2009).


This poem originally appeared in the June 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

June 2009
 Michael  Hofmann


Poet, translator, and essayist Michael Hofmann was born in Freiburg, Germany, and moved to the UK at age four. When his family returned to Germany, Hofmann stayed behind, first at boarding schools and later Magdalene College, Cambridge University, where he earned his BA and MA. His first book of poetry, Nights in the Iron Hotel (1983), earned him instant acclaim in Britain. Of his early work, written in verse blocks and . . .

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