By Michael Hofmann b. 1957 Michael Hofmann
The luncheon voucher years
(the bus pass and digitized medical record
always in the inside pocket come later,
and the constant orientation to the nearest hospital).
The years of “sir” (long past “mate,” much less “dearie”),
of invisibility, of woozy pacifism,
of the preemptive smile of the hard-of-hearing,

of stiff joints and the small pains
that will do me in. The ninth complement
of fresh — stale — cells, the Late Middle Years
(say, 1400 AD — on the geological calendar),
the years of the incalculable spreading middle,
the years of speculatively counting down
from an unknown terminus,

because the whole long stack —
shale, vertebrae, pancakes, platelets, plates —
won’t balance anymore, and doesn’t correspond anyway
to the thing behind the eyes that says “I”
and feels uncertain green and treble
and wants its kilt as it climbs up to the lectern to blush
and read “thou didst not abhor the virgin’s womb.”

The years of taking the stairs two at a time
(though not at weekends)
a bizarre debt to Dino Buzzati’s Tartar Steppe,
the years of a deliberate lightness of tread,
perceived as a nod to Franz   Josef
thinking with his knees and rubber-tired Viennese Fiaker.
The years when the dead are starting to stack up.

The years of incuriosity and novarum rerum
incupidissimus, the years of cheap acquisition
and irresponsible postponement, or cheap
postponement and irresponsible acquisition,
of   listlessness, of   miniaturism, of irascibility,
of   being soft on myself, of   being hard on myself,
and neither knowing nor especially caring which.

The years of   re-reading (at arm’s length).
The fiercely objected-to professional years,
the appalling indulgent years, the years of no challenge
and comfort zone and safely within my borders.
The years of   no impressions and little memory.

The years of standing in elevators
under the elevator lights in the elevator mirror,
feeling and looking like leathered frizz,
an old cheese-topped dish under an infrared hot plate.

The years of one over the thirst
and another one over the hunger, of   insomnia
and sleeping in, of creases and pouches and heaviness
and the hairdresser offering to trim my eyebrows.
The years of the unbeautiful corpse in preparation.
The years to choose: sild, or flamber

Source: Poetry (March 2013).


This poem originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of Poetry magazine

March 2013
 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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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Growing Old, Life Choices, The Body, The Mind, Time & Brevity

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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