Sankt Georg

Sankt Georg, what was it, questionable, doubtful, shady, twilit,
a something area, something  Jan said, and he was born in Hamburg,
and went to school here, so he would know.

A little isthmus between the Alster with its freshwater sailors
and the railway station, always a reliable drag on things anywhere in Europe
(the transients, the drugs, the preset collisions between the foolish young

and the unscrupulous old), though this one piped classical music — 
not anymore — 
to the forecourt, where taxi drivers got out
and walked their Mercs around in neutral

because they were hours without a fare and were saving diesel
(which was all very well in summer),
and the immediate, somehow always slightly grubby or compromised view

of three theatres, two museums, and le Carré’s bunker hotel,
but, hey, it was classy while it lasted,
and you could get to Milan or Moscow if you had to.

Then the Polizeibezirk of underage Puppenstrich about the time
B. came here from the country,
still often the only girl not on the game, among whores

and winos and people “with an immigration background”
looking grim and wearing subfusc and doing the messages, as we once said. Then gays — 
is there a pink euro, like a pink pound, and the Pink Pistols and gray wolves? — 

intrepid advance guard of gentrification.
So up the rents, send in the heavies, firebomb the buildings, locals out,
make improvements, and up the rents again, same everywhere.

A natty pellucid pissoir in the Hanser Platz that it would take Paris to pull off,
drunks round the monument (“reel around the fountain”), hardy trees and hardier women,
little roosters, little rosters in the apartment block for cleaning the common parts,

little brass squares set in the ground for individual fascist outrages,
with the victims’ names, the massy church at the end of the street — 
St. George’s, the AIDS church, the rainbow flag,

the incendiary community paper called the Dragon.
Sudden sad flurries of flowers, the curt pairs of dates,
a grown-out bleached person with one leg.

The main drag changed utterly,
meaning as usual stylistic diktat from elsewhere
and the birth of an interchangeably frippish hideousness. Three hat shops,

an empty tea bar (tax write-off? money laundry?) boasting sixteen varieties of macaroons,
endless places to stop (if you even wanted to stop) on the narrow pavement
between the heedless cars and the nosy passersby,

expensive ready-cooked food shops with names like Mom’s, gone
the hardware store that stocked everything and was staffed by people
who advised you where to find it for even less, out of business,

or moved away to less promising parts.
The photo shops, the record store, bookshop. All gone.
And behind that, the Steindamm, our belly and balls,

twinned with Kabul, or Mombasa, or Abuja.
Telephone shops if you wanted to call anywhere with a red, green, and black flag
(launch pad of Ali Ağca and his crew of martyrs), casinos,

thorny or hairy vegetables, fetish stores, Alphonso mangoes from Pakistan,
video brothels, limitless mint and parsley and cilantro, hourly hotels,
cracked olives and fresh cheese, old girls with three words of German, newly baked flatbread.

The birds strike up between three and four (it’s the Northern light),
while at lit intersections they never stop.
Twilit, doubtful, shady, something. Questionable.

More Poems by Michael Hofmann