Episode 6: Constantine Cavafy & Linda Gregg

Waiting for the Barbarians

by C.P. Cavafy

translation by Edmund Keely

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum? 

      The barbarians are due here today. 

Why isn’t anything going on in the senate? 
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating? 

      Because the barbarians are coming today. 
      What’s the point of senators making laws now? 
      Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating. 

Why did our emperor get up so early, 
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city’s main gate, 
in state, wearing the crown? 

      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and the emperor’s waiting to receive their leader. 
      He’s even got a scroll to give him, 
      loaded with titles, with imposing names. 

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas? 
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts, 
rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds? 
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold? 

      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and things like that dazzle the barbarians. 

Why don’t our distinguished orators turn up as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say? 

      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking. 

Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion? 
(How serious people’s faces have become.) 
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly, 
everyone going home lost in thought? 

      Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven't come. 
      And some of our men just in from the border say
      there are no barbarians any longer. 

Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians? 
Those people were a kind of solution.

Alone with the Goddess

by Linda Gregg

The young men ride their horses fast
on the wet sand of Parangtritis. 
Back and forth, with the water sliding
up to them and away. 
This is the sea where the goddess lives, 
angry, her lover taken away. 
Don’t wear red, don’t wear green here, 
the people say. Do not swim in the sea. 
Give her an offering. 
I give a coconut to protect
the man I love. The water pushes it back. 
I wade out and throw it farther. 
“The goddess does not accept your gift,” 
an old woman says. 
I say perhaps she likes me
and we are playing a game. 
The old woman is silent, 
the horses wear blinders of cloth, 
the young men exalt in their bodies, 
not seeing right or left, pretending
to be brave. Sliding on and off
their beautiful horses
on the wet beach at Parangtritis.

Devereau Chumrau is an actor of stage and screen, with notable appearances in Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere at Sacred Fools in Los Angeles, Lynn Nottage's Las Meninas at the Asolo Rep, and appearances on television show including Dexter and Key & Peele.