This Happens

A little while ago we looked at a poetic suggestion by a Mr. Cavafy. Here, below, he tells a little tale of sudden attraction and subtle flirtation. It shows much of what we’ve discussed here before, and more.

I should maybe point out that C.P. Cavafy was a Greek poet, and his work either attracts very good translators or very naturally comes across well when brought to English. In any case, the loss of whatever meter and rhyme it began with doesn’t do any harm to a beautiful, insightful story.

He Asked about the Quality

He left the office where he’d taken up
a trivial, poorly paid job
(eight pounds a month, including bonuses)—
left at the end of the dreary work
that kept him bent all afternoon,
came out at seven and walked off slowly,
idling his way down the street. Good-looking;
and interesting: showing as he did that he’d reached
his full sensual capacity.
He’d turned twenty-nine the month before.

He idled his way down the main street
and the poor side-streets that led to his home.

Passing in front of a small shop
that sold cheap and flimsy things for workers,
he saw a face inside there, saw a figure
that compelled him to go in, and he pretended
he wanted to look at some colored handkerchiefs.

He asked about the quality of the handkerchiefs
and how much they cost, his voice choking,
almost silenced by desire.
And the answers came back the same way,
distracted, the voice hushed,
offering hidden consent.

They kept on talking about the merchandise—but
the only purpose: that their hands might touch
over the handkerchiefs, that their faces, their lips,
might move close together as though by chance—
a moment’s meeting of limb against limb.

Quickly, secretly, so the shopowner sitting at the back
wouldn’t realize what was going on.

 

(Constantine P. Cavafy)

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