Cavafy As You Like Him


When I was twenty-five years old, I would, after a night in a dark bar sparsely filled with unspeaking men, and with a flickering neon sign out front – would you believe me if I told you the place was called “The Flame”? – I would return to my apartment alone, and, although slightly intoxicated already, pour myself a glass of wine, light a cigarette, and read poems by C. P. Cavafy.

And my heart would swell.

A poem is a jewel of language. A poem is hard and dense and beautiful, formed by compaction over epochal lengths of time and feeling, but it can capture and refract a single ray of light, so that what emerges comes from both the moment at hand and also from some place deep inside the earth long ago.

Now, twenty years later – sober, responsible – I slant dangerously toward compassionate condescension of that well-oiled, poetry-impassioned self. In those small hours of the morning, however, sitting on my kitchen floor with a stack of books beside me, I felt something. I felt a connection to this man who a century earlier had wrestled with such immense loneliness. I knew we shared the same need, the same fear, and also an enormous self-sufficiency that could crumble under the fleeting gaze of a handsome stranger. I somehow also knew that this armored self-completeness wanted only to collapse. The radiant translucence and gemlike concision of his poems dazzled me. Their obsessive aestheticism seized me. Each poem traipsed a high narrow wall between irony on one side and vulnerability on the other.

Like me.

I was twenty-five.


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