Michael Hofmann, “On the Beach at Thorpeness”


I looked idly right for corpses in the underbrush,
then left, to check that Sizewell was still there.
The wind was from that quarter, northeasterly, a seawind,
B-wind, from that triune reliable fissile block.

—It blackened the drainage ditches
on the low coastal plain, blew up a dry tushing rustle
from the liberal-democratic Aesopian bullrushes,
and an ill-tempered creaking from Christian oaks…

A set of three-point lion prints padded up the beach.
The tideline was a ravel of seaweed and detritus,
a red ragged square of John Bull plastic,
a gull’s feather lying down by a fish-spine.

The North Sea was a yeasty, sudsy brown slop.
My feet jingled on the sloping gravel,
a crisp musical shingle. My tracks were oval holes
like whole notes or snowshoes or Dover soles.

Roaring waves of fighters headed back to Bentwaters.
The tide advanced in blunt cod’s-head curves,
ebbed through the chattering teeth of the pebbles.
Jaw jaw. War war.

Selected Poems was assembled from four Michael Hofmann collections published between 1983 and 1999, along with seven new poems. In the last decade, he has focused primarily on translating German literature, including works by Franz Kafka, Thomas Bernhard, Peter Stamm, and Joseph Roth (as well as his father, Gert Hofmann). Last year, he explained his poetic silence to The Independent: “I did feel from the mid-90s on that poems had a harder time getting out of me. I think my self-censoring has got much stronger, and poems that might have appeared are often strangled.”

17 April 2009 | poetry |