An Old Man

Robert Pinsky

after Cavafy

Back in a corner, alone in the clatter and babble
An old man sits with his head bent over a table
and his newspaper in front of him, in the café.

Sour with old age, he ponders a dreary truth—
How little he enjoyed the years when he had youth,
Good looks and strength and clever things to say.

He knows he’s quite old now: he feels it, he sees it,
And yet the time when he was young seems—was it?
Yesterday. How quickly, how quickly it slipped away.

Now he sees how Discretion has betrayed him,
And how stupidly he let the liar persuade him
With phrases: Tomorrow. There’s plenty of time. Some day.

He recalls the pull of impulses he suppressed,
The joy he sacrificed. Every chance he lost
Ridicules his brainless prudence a different way.

But all these thoughts and memories have made
The old man dizzy. He falls asleep, his head
Resting on the table, in the noisy café.

Robert Pinsky is the author of Jersey Breaks: Becoming an American Poet, an autobiography forthcoming in October.
Originally published:
June 1, 1988


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