He came out of the office where he was employed
in an unimportant and poorly paid position
(up to eight pounds a month, with tips);
when he finished his tedious work
that kept him stooped all afternoon,
he came out at seven, and sauntered slowly,
gazing idly in the street. Beautiful
and interesting, he carried himself
as if he'd reached his full sensual potential.
He turned twenty-nine a month ago.
He gazed idly in the street, and down the poor alleys
that led to his rooms.
Passing by a small shop
where they sold cheap
and inferior goods for laborers,
he saw a face inside, he saw a shape
that moved him to enter, and he acted as if
he wanted to see colored handkerchiefs.
He asked about the quality of the handkerchiefs
and what they cost
in a choked voice
almost erased by desire.
And the answers came the same way,
absently, in a lowered voice,
with an implied consent.
They kept talking about the merchandise—but
their sole aim: to touch hands
on top of the handkerchiefs, to draw
their faces together, their lips, as if by accident;
a fleeting touch of their limbs.
Quickly and furtively so the shopkeeper
sitting in the back would not notice.
|From The Collected Poems of C. P. Cavafy: A New Translation by C. P. Cavafy, translated by Aliki Barnstone. Copyright © 2006 by Aliki Barnston. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.|