"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 fiddling-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 cufflinks 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.

Michael Hofmann

New York Review of Books, 11 October 2018

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