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Kafka’s Derby


ISSUE:  Autumn 1984

I have a photograph of Kafka
in that dear little derby of his
that I love so much,
as I love him, it occurs to me.
And how strange, I can’t help thinking,
to feel so much for somebody
I never met—more
than for people I know,
living people
who might benefit
from my affections. . . .
But that’s how it is.
If I could have met him just once,
invited him home for dinner—
I would have made him feel welcome.
Here, let me take your coat, Franz,
and your Derby;
inside the door, I would lead him
to the place of honor
and serve him a flawless meal,
having discovered by then, of course,
how he liked his steak,
or whether he favored a certain dish,
a sauce, or a particular fish, for instance. . . .
Afterwards we would light our cigars
(there is no tuberculosis
in this poem)—
I don’t know much about cigars,
but I would take the trouble to learn—
these would be the finest cigars
money could buy—
know what I mean?—
and after a few puffs
I would set mine in the ashtray,
lean back in my chair and
with my hands folded on my chest
wait for him to speak.
It is at this moment, always,
that I wake from my fantasy.
I am aware of the lamplight
and the yellow pencil
lying across my notebook,
and that I am alone,
without Kafka.
Even so, there is a presence—
in me—that won’t go away,
the something
that is still waiting
for his voice.

What would he say? I wonder.
Maybe I’ll never know.
But it’s not so bad, this silence,
not an uncomfortable one.
Kafka seems to be enjoying his cigar.
I take mine up again
and puff thoughtfully.

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