Poem - Cheltenham

The nouveau oil building

spoils the old water town, spook town, old folks' town.

My old parents, like something out of le Carre,

shuffle round the double Georgian square

tracing figures of eight, endless figures of eight,

defected ice-dance trainers or frozen old spooks,

patinage, badinage,

reminiscence with silences.

Then a family event if ever there was one:

my mother reads my translation of my father,

who hasn't read aloud since his "event".

Darkness falls outside. Inside too.

Ted Hughes is in the small audience,

and afterwards asks my father,

whether he ever, like an Innuit,

dreamed of his own defeat and death.

My father, who's heard some questions, but never anything

like this, doesn't know Ted Hughes,

perhaps hears "idiot", gives an indignant no

in his miraculously clear English.

More laps of the marred green,

the pink sky silts down, a November afternoon

by the clock, his last in England.

The days brutally short; a grumpy early night.

From Michael Hofmann's new collection, "Approximately Nowhere", to be published in April by Faber & Faber, £7.99

This article first appeared in the 22 January 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Goodbye to all that boiled cabbage