My Cavafy Poem


Certainly this little drawing
in pencil resembles him.

'a Greek gentleman
in a straw hat,
standing at a slight angle
to the universe'

--seeing it
through great round glasses
in tortoise-shell frames.
And talking to himself.

But what was he saying?


All alone up here,
hero and victim.

Even Cavafy
had to have an address,
if he wanted to be
found, and he did.
10 Rue Lepsius,
Alexandria, Egypt,
was his last.

The whores,
who moved in
beneath him,
gave the house
what respectability
it had. More
than a poet could.

They called
out the windows
to passersby.
Every now and then
they got an angel
to come in.

So did Cavafy.


Tomorrow, the day after, or years later,
he'll give voice to the strong lines
that had their beginning here.

To give a dead man
his own words back, used,
as if they were your own.

That is the way,
the only way.

you are
rightfully a citizen
in the mother-city
of poets. And poems.

difficult it is,
and rare, to be
naturalized there,
you are.

You gave yourself up,
wholly, and went
into the careless night
where pleasure
was your only principle--

the real, unrealing.

I do know your poems.
They stay with me.

I say them.
If not to others,
well, then, to myself.

Your fancies pass
in my lively mouth.


Say good-bye to her,
to the Alexandria you are losing.

He did not want
an artificial box,
a mechanical
bird, singing
the Greek word
_____ death,
in his throat.

He wanted
his own real
and musical voice.
But failing that,
he wanted
only a pencil
to take notes--

from which
he wanted to make
his hardest loss
into his last
and greatest poems.

William Slaughter

Copyright © William Slaughter 1990
Untold Stories (Empty Bowl: Port Townsend, 1990)
Acknowledgment: Poetry Australia 104 (1986)

Mudlarking / Cavafy / Learning How to Read