George Economou, through C. P. Cavafy: 'The Newspaper Story' (a new poem)

David Hockney: C. P. Cavafy in Africa, from “14 Poems from C. P. Cavafy 1966-67”
David Hockney: C. P. Cavafy in Africa, from “14 Poems from C. P. Cavafy 1966-67”

Dejected, reading the newspaper while riding the tram:
he came across an apparent crime in the Police Blotter,
a crime that had taken place the night before
between ten and eleven. The murderer had not yet been found.
The newspaper story, quite justly,
abhorred the murder, but righteously
showed its utter contempt
for the victim’s degenerate way of life,
for that individual’s depravity.

He read all about it, the contempt … and grieving in silence,
remembered an evening between ten and midnight a year ago
they had spent together in a room
(the only time — barely knowing each other by sight)
in a half-hotel, half brothel. Never — not even
in the street — did they ever meet again.
It described the wound in detail
and surmised blackmail must have had something to do with it.
The contempt … and he, grieving in silence,
remembered the sweet lips and the white, exceptional
sublime flesh he hadn’t kissed enough.

Dejected, he read the story in the newspaper.
The body was discovered at about eleven at night
near the docks. It was not definite after all
that a crime had been committed,
a slight chance it was an accident, wasn’t intentional.
The newspaper expressed some pity, but righteously
showed its indignation and contempt
for the victim’s degenerate way of life.

[“The Newspaper Story” is based on the fragments and drafts of HE EIDISIS TES EPHEMERIDOS (“The Newspaper Item”) dated May 1918, the first of thirty Cavafy archival texts entitled ATELE POIEMATA (Unfinished Poems) edited by Professor Renata Lavagnini of the University of Palermo (Athens: Ikaros Press, 1994). Economou’s reconstruction, described in the following note, will be published early 2013 in his Complete Plus, the Poetry of C. P. Cavafy in English (Shearsman Books), to coincide with that year’s Cavafy sesquicentennial. A further piece by Economou “on translating Cavafy” was posted earlier on Poems & Poetics.]


Confronted with the numerous problems related to translating the elements (or even an editorial reconstruction) of a never fully realized poem in Greek, especially when those elements consist of several unfinished and partially contradictory drafts, variants, and marginalia, I have preferred to refashion those elements into a poem finished by me, an available hand educated for its execution by my dedication during the last several years to the study and translation of Cavafy’s poetry. While I do not claim my poem represents how Cavafy would have finished his preliminary workings of it, I will claim that my fully realized poem in English presents a text more true than traitorous to the poetic potency of its fragments. Like Cavafy’s “half-hotel, half-brothel” hybrid place of assignation, “The Newspaper Story” inhabits the double nature of making poems and writing translations, a crossbreed that reverses the usual order of the way we go about our business. (G. E.)