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Kind of Greek

You had a satchel, we talked in traffic, the bus shelter was as good as a café. For it is vain and foolish to talk of knowing Greek. In the city, every turn revealed a mossy wall before the stars. Are we reading Greek as it was written? We had only just met. Greek is a beautiful and harrowing landscape, centuries dead.

When she was born we had been friends for ten years. I nursed her with the phone beneath my chin. The meaning is just on the far side of language. You sent a too-small hat, I wrote letters as I walked, my exhaustion left me shamed. It’s a very Greek idea, and a very profound one: Beauty is terror.

You had a child, then another, never quite fell in love but tried. The Greeks are different; they know how foolish it is to deny the unseen world. I tried to like her, tried to like you with her. Their beauty is harsh. We were parents more than friends. A language innocent of all quirks.

That one word contains for me the secret, the bright, terrible clarity of ancient Greek. She hit you once, she hit you twice, you lost count. Our friendship was a raft in unknown waters. One of the rules of Greek lament poetry is that it mustn’t mention the dead by name. I write through the Greek, not from it. Each visit you made was an oasis and like dreamt water it was soon gone.

The Greeks have no Devil. A language obsessed with action. Those stern and ancient rhythms. We were fat on antidepressants. You hated people with Teslas. We spoke as if someone were eavesdropping, but we always met alone.

The crowd was too thick to ford. Greek is the impersonal literature; it is also the literature of masterpieces. Wood-paneled walls showed your hair’s first gray; you raised a glass and my lips lifted but failed to hold a smile. I still think it a much greater language: a language which has never been surpassed. I let the silver line lapse gently; I left before we grew old.

Published in The Kenyon Review