Four Poems by Richie Hofmann

Lemon Swarm

It is summer’s end, lurid and mutable.

The black pigs graze acorns in semi-freedom.

Perhaps my need to appear

happy at all times comes from a fear

of my true thoughts and desires.

Perhaps that is my nature.

In the market, I see each bleeding pig heart

as a small triumph of the Baroque.

Insects swarm the lemon tree,

a true cathedral. In the streets

of the Arab quarter, the skinny cat guards

its paper plate of vomit-food.

Perhaps the verbal affirmations

of love I crave are the boundaries

of an art being laid down.


Black Paper

I hid my hand

in the pocket of your coat. Half my face was buried

in a scarf. Birds called out and their songs were severe.

When Tallis the court composer died

his friend wrote for him an elegy for four viols

and countertenor. He wanted the voice

wistful    high-pitched   made effeminate

by grief. When I walked the outdoor market I saw displayed

on tables the fruits of winter

beets   herbs in plastic    bitter chicories

smoked cheeses in crimson rinds

and bought a Belgian endive

wrapped in black paper

so light would not touch it.


In Town

From “The Prince”


It was not

the getting there, but the place gotten to

that excited me. I have—

I had, even as a child

of four or five—a taste

for the cosmopolitan.


I was fortunate, in a way,

to have seen many cities, to have been

a guest in many houses, though travel

was—and is—most unpleasant.

As I matured, the pleasure

of someone new


was matched only by the game

of loving him back.

Loving him with the same heart


that cultivated a preference

for a particular rehearsal of solitude, mornings

at the mirror, the truest love, the love

for perfect surfaces.


As if self-love could atone

for—it is strange to articulate it to you now—the grating

shortcomings of everyone I wanted

to love in return. And now—

to be in Brussels, of all places,

and alone.


Prewar Apartment

The two of us kneel

on the wet steps, and an order

of mosquitoes circles


our ankles and wrists. The canal, deep under us,

flows from a river we cannot see.


It is our seventh summer.

Tomorrow, on the narrow cot in the prewar apartment on the outskirts

of town, I will open my eyes: our shirts


draped, one inside the other, over the straight back of a chair.

Rain all night in the uprooted tree.

The sound of wild rabbits


in a collapsible cage.

“On Monday,

the Danube there reached


a record level of 42 feet,

which the authorities said

was the highest in 500 years.”


Photo Credit: pxhere via Creative Commons

About the author

Richie Hofmann is the recipient of a Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship and the author of Second Empire (Alice James Books, 2015), winner of the Beatrice Hawley Award. He is a 2017–19 Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University.

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