The City

after C. P. Cavafy

You tell me: I’m going to another country,
another city, another body.
Perhaps my heart will stay uncertain,
and I will destroy my history but I am leaving.
Even if on every street, I find the ruins of our bodies,
I’ll roam like a restless soul anyway.

I tell you: you won’t find a new country,
new city, new body. You’ll return to roam
the same ruins, same streets, same quartiere,
return to complain in the same room
of the same house, return to the memory of our intertwined bodies.
You will always end up in Roma: I will always remain in you.
And maybe late, you’ll see, that what you destroyed
is worth more than all the worlds you wasted your time in.


Copyright © 2022 by Nathalie Handal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 22, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“It was morning, late eighties. While gazing the Paris rooftops—the moveable bodies of my life—I read ‘The City’ by Constantine P. Cavafy for the first time. The city, like the body, like love, is unreachable. During the pandemic, the view from the Gianicolo Hill of alluring Rome was in contrast to my aching body. What is death amidst such beauty? When I reread Cavafy’s poem this time, I wrote: You tell me. Maybe the speaker is responding to Cavafy or the speaker in his poem, to Rome or the lover who returns after betraying their voyage, or to all of them. And I find that only the city can give me the questions to my answers.”
Nathalie Handal