Gregory Woods

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Gregory Woods is the author of We Have the Melon (1992), May I Say Nothing (1998), The District Commissioner’s Dreams (2002), Quidnunc (2007), An Ordinary Dog (2011), and Records of an Incitement to Silence (2021), all from Carcanet Press. His cultural histories include Articulate Flesh: Male Homo-eroticism and Modern Poetry (1987), A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition (1998) and Homintern: How Gay Culture Liberated the Modern World (2016), all from Yale University Press.



On the morning of my birthday
I’ve been trying to remember
what the body has encrypted
of the city of my birth—

how particular conditions
of both climate and convention,
since I found myself among them,
have amounted to a dearth.

While the memory is lacking
its memorial has lasted
like a message of invective
to the dotard from the tyro—

even seven decades later
the most commonplace procedure
holds a tangible reminder
of the legacy of Cairo.

Having started my forgetting
with a single cry of advent
I was taken by my father
to be introduced to life,

in concealment from my mother
by a huddle of mute menfolk
representing faith and science,
under Doctor Magdi’s knife.

Eight days later I was swaddled
in a gown of local cotton
loosely fastened at the collar
with a ribbon of blue satin

to be christened in another
close conspiracy of adults,
the renouncing of the Devil
spoken over me in Latin.

With my innocent uncleanness
twice reliably lustrated
I was free to be a sinner
in the manner of my choice:

bearing scars of steel and water
on the surface and beneath it,
I would hone my own offences
of the body and the voice.

As the past regresses further
into ciphers of amnesia,
does the baffle of a sandstorm
still adulterate the vision?

In the gardens of Zamalek
are its petals still surrendered
to a current of the Khamsin
by the bud of circumcision?

Up to seven decades later
in my own hands and in others’
the prerequisites of pleasure
have been furnished: no one thinks

it would profit any purpose
to go back to the beginning
and commit to restoration
the defacement of the Sphinx.

Lock the foreskin of the poet
in a reliquary beautified
with sapphires and sardonyx
flanked by muscular ephebes

and despatch it up the river
on a saturnine felucca
to be buried as the sun sets
in a pyramid at Thebes.

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