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Reading Cavafy
by Janice Gould

On her desk, a translation of Cavafy
that my teacher, a young woman of Greek origin,
loaned me, though she looked at me strangely
and perhaps even laughed softly
when I evinced interest in this poet.
She told me nothing about him, so
when I opened the volume and read,
I was mystified by his antique histories,
startled by his lust and sensuality. Quietly
I returned the volume to her.
If she asked me what I thought of his verse,
I don't remember. I had not fully understood
the reportorial voice recounting memories
of lamplight, wine shops, brothels,
curtains parted by a breeze, balconies,
the narrow beds and busy streets he adored,
suppleness of flesh, shafts of Alexandrian
sunlight, sea sparkle and salt. Vaguely I could ascertain
the man's loneliness, his sense of exile
and guilty pleasure, emotions with which
I was familiar, but could barely admit to.
Easier to close the volume and remain
mute, hoping to avoid lacerations of fear,
mockery and humiliation, derided
by my classmates and instructor, all the while
loving a woman eight years my senior,
who lived afar and whose long, dark braid
made me breathless, whose bare
throat received my fervent kisses.


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