On the Stairs

Knopf Poem of the day:

In 2009, Daniel Mendelsohn published new translations of the poems of the Alexandrine Greek poet C. P. Cavafy (1863-1933), including not only his published work but work that he had left finished but unpublished, or unfinished, in draft form. Cavafy’s poems, Mendelsohn reminds us, „bear witness to a deep, even scholarly interest in all phases of Greek history“; his other great subject was desire between men. A selection of Mendelsohn’s translations is now available in a Pocket Poets edition, and today we feature „On the Stairs,“ a strikingly modern poem which comes from the „Unpublished“ group. (Don’t miss the audio – read for us by J. D. McClatchy.)

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On the Stairs

As I was going down the shameful stair,
you came in the door, and for moment
I saw your unfamiliar face and you saw me.
Then I hid so you wouldn’t see me again, and you
passed by quickly as you hid your face,
and stole inside the shameful house
where you likely found no pleasure, just as I found none.

And yet the love you wanted, I had to give you;
the love I wanted – your eyes told me so,
tired and suspicious – you had to give me.
Our bodies sensed and sought each other out;
our blood and skin understood.

But we hid from each other, we two, terrified.