Back to Issue Twenty-Five.

Summer Palace



The summer palace was so full
of people. Keep your mind occupied, my old tutor would say,
or you will fall victim to your idleness.
I kept busy. Unlike that fat, vain bitch Louise de la Vallière.

War is a messy business.
I can’t imagine much wanting
to think about it. My own son
drove the Turks from Europe—a task

for which he was deeded a not unremarkable piece of land.
I am not, by nature,
averse to violence, though I prefer
more intimate theatres.

In my exile, which is, admittedly, only partially self-imposed,
I enjoy the company of my animals.
A new litter just the other week. And the smallest, ugliest little hog-nosed dog.
I think I will call him Louise.






In those days, one visited
through the curtain,
unlocking the secret door

with a small key.
One brought oils. Scented creams.

One wrote billets-doux—
it was exhausting to expend oneself so freely.
In the privacy

of one’s own apartments, one denied oneself.
One waited patiently.
Patience was not yet burdensome.
The trick

was in the making love.
That is to say,
how both to fuck and to maintain
the semblance

of one’s virginity and one’s good moral
standing. Not that anyone
expected to find innocence

among the loves of kings, did they?
Never mind. Not all

of this is of consequence
or will seem useful
in this modern age.






Twenty-seven years since the plague year I was born in,
and the branches are shaking as usual—

sometimes it feels like a violent gesture
and other times like a curtsy, because

the bushes under them look like round, gold pantaloons.
The other trees

are angular and manscaped, but moss
softens the statuary,

as in the royal cemetery, where machines
tore at the bowels

of the city with mechanical claws,
where we ate pears from a paper bag

and our chins shined as from the aftermath
of lust. We met, we moved unshyly,

the shower hit our backs and faces
like a shaft of light

in a religious painting,
my whore-heart’s little monarchy

assigning me the subordinate roles
I loved, even though I refused

to share you with others,
our hairy legs still wet

as we passed ourselves between us,
blunting our edges with our mouths. 






I hold a key as long as my body. There is a ribbon threaded through the hole. With all the
other actors finally off-stage, I am posing as a putto in a neoclassical tableau.

The light expresses the boundary of the scene.

It is all part of a flashback to another time. (It is very difficult to negotiate these quick shifts between time periods

in the action of a single opera.)  I am shown in motion by a small floating cloth, which
magically but unrealistically covers my penis. My nostrils are outlined for emphasis.

In the Fascist version, I am not a putto in a neoclassical tableau, but an Aryan boy on a

The OTHER MALE FIGURES enter, wearing traditional fashions: harnesses made of leather
belts and straps.

My words are full of desire. Then of envy (in the musical style of Salieri).

Then it is over. It isn’t the ovation I love. It’s the Maestro, petting my dark blond hair.


Richie Hofmann is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. His poems appear in the New YorkerPloughshares, the Adroit Journal, and Poetry. His first collection of poems is Second Empire, winner of the Beatrice Hawley Award. He is currently a Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University.

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