Poetry

He Asked About the Quality

BOTTING, NICK - The Delaunay

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.

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

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