…after the poem by C.P. Cavafy, translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard.
What are we waiting for, glued to the television?
The barbarian may be on today.
Why isn’t anything happening in the congress?
Why do the senators and congresspeople pass no laws?
Because we’re having an election, and a barbarian could win. Isn’t that enough to worry about?
Why did our president get up so early?
Why does he stand with his wife and children at the door of his oval office, under his great seal?
Because if the barbarian comes, he wants to give him a fine greeting. It will be written on a scroll that the President will unscroll for him to read–“When you go low, we will go high.” That will show him.
Why is it so hard to argue with the barbarian even though we feel we have right on our side? Why were our distinguished politicians so powerless before him, helpless to say what they had to say?
Because compared to the barbarian they are boring and empty, devoid of emotion—they pay the price of being careful and correct.
Why have the two media commentators come out so long ahead of time—one man and one woman, wearing identical suits and equally impartial faces. Because if the barbarian debates, they have to show that they are fair.
They wear no rings or glittering bracelets. Because our nation is a democracy, where even the 1 per cent look must look like the other 99, and even though they wield unconscionable power, those who control events/opinions must show no mark of individuality but be indistinguishable from everybody else.
As for us, we are left in a state of sudden restlessness and confusion. (How worried and serious our faces have become.)
Why are there no longer people at the rallies of the opposing candidate, why are the streets and squares suddenly empty,
why has everyone retreated to his or her private world, lost in her or his own labyrinth of thought?
The election is over, people say. Night is coming and the barbarian may not be elected. People say he is falling in the polls. Some believe there is no longer any danger of a barbarian. But we continue to speak of him. We can speak of nothing else.
What kind of a political life can there be with no barbarian?
For all of us, on both sides, that man was a kind of a solution.