Michael Hof­mann

The New York Review of Books - - Contents - —Michael Hof­mann

Poem

“but you would see faces that were worth a sec­ond look” —Got­tfried Benn

It was an­other world, the world of turned col­lars and pol­ished shoes,

Hair­brushes once a week laid face-down in what I thought was a spe­cific

But was only a weak so­lu­tion of sham­poo in luke­warm wa­ter,

Jer­seys were roughed up with a kind of knuck­le­duster of Sel­lotape,

Suit­cases wore char­ac­ter­ful la­bels and tags on their heavy, leather ef­fect card­board

Who can imag­ine such a world not of cares, but of care,

Once we set our­selves to be­come un­pressed, ca­su­al­ized, short-run, drip-dry, En­cased in think­ing syn­thet­ics or flash suits, the hu­man fid­dler-crab and his de­vice Emerg­ing to­gether from nail-bars and tan­ning stu­dios and whiten­ing sa­lons

Like so many gigo­los, soc­cer man­agers, politi­cians, or molls,

Wear­ing our fewer, sim­pler, less re­stric­tive gar­ments more shab­bily or dress­ily,

Hav­ing our man­i­cures, our teeth whitened, our hair and beards re­pur­posed

Ev­ery other day, own­ing ei­ther fewer things or they were let go to seed,

So in­tent on our per­sonal groom­ing, we ne­glected im­per­sonal groom­ing,

The care ex­tended be­yond our­selves, the aura of so­lic­i­tude sur­round­ing our ap­pur­te­nances

The world of face­cloths and nap­kin-rings and coal-scut­tles

And coir hall-car­pets and brass stair-rods and milk-jugs and pow­dered mus­tard

And shoe-trees and tie-racks and plumped down pil­lows and cuff-links and weskits and hats And hard­bound chil­dren’s books for our hard­bound chil­dren

And malt vine­gar and bak­ing-soda to take off the worst of the dirt,

How care­less, cheap, and prof­li­gate we have be­come,

We have stopped shav­ing against the grain and in cold wa­ter,

We didn’t eat or drink in the street in those days, flawed and freck­led

An ap­ple was taken for what it was, an undis­tin­guished thing and a priv­i­lege,

Not chem­istry at the top of its game, ester baby, breath­ing per­fume and yet found fault with.

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