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Kafka Has A Dream About The Dead And Decay

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In Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the ‘missing’ diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. There are some estimates that Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote. 

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21 March 1917

Dreamed I was standing in a galleria with him. In a town in Northern Italy. We could see across the rooftops, to a plain slipping gently toward the foothills of the mountains. The day was clear – a cool spring morning – and the touch of sun was welcome on our skin.

He pointed to a laden waggon passing beneath us. A curtain of dust rose from its wheels as it squeezed through a narrow lane. We watched it for awhile, then he turned to me, his body a silhouette against the vivid sky.

“I enjoyed my funeral. I wish we could have talked about it after – it was one of those things to share.”

“We did share it,” I pointed out. “I was there.”

“But I was not,” he said.

Then he eased himself over the balcony, and without effort, we were sitting in the back of the waggon, perched upon boxes and equipment. We rattled out of the village toward the countryside.

“I loved the outdoors,” he said. “I still remember my last walk in the fields.”

We moved slowly through the country side, the waggon rarely being jostled along the rutted road. The teamster must have been an expert, but he never turned his face to us. Intent upon his business, I suppose.

“You forget that I am dead; for which I thank you.”

“Sometimes I do,” I replied.

“It is at those times, I sometimes think I’m still alive.”

He occasionally pointed to things behind me. Once there was a rabbit. The countryside spread endlessly, without another person in sight. I mentioned this, and he nodded.

“It will be crowded at our destination. But I’ll want to meet my wife.” He then leaned toward me, across the waggon. “You helped me, you know – in our final dance.” He smiled, then sighed, then pointed beneath me.   “My destination is close, I must return.”

I looked down, and saw I was sitting on a coffin – the polished brown one of his funeral. I moved, then bent over, prepared to open it. His fingers touched the wood beneath my hand.

“No. Do not look. You would not like what you found.” His smile seemed forced, there were more teeth showing than usual. “I embrace my new world. But for you, I am well and truly dead.”

Whistling Past The Graveyard With Death

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I had an invitation which I won’t take too personally. Well – on the other hand – it is as personal to me as it is to any one, so I’m sure that’s OK, too.
The event is Death Expo 2019. I’m assuming they don’t know something that I don’t know – but you never know. I assume that not only are they the experts, but it is – after all – their business. However, I can take comfort (you know, as much as possible) that the topic will … eventually … be as interesting to everyone who is – you know – alive.
Still, even though we all approach closer to Death with each minute of life, and it is really no surprise, I was a bit surprised to find an event dedicated to the fact. And I was a bit bemused by the Free Admission. I mean, don’t they have a captive audience? Still – live and learn.
And it all seems quite sensible, from ‘wills’ to ‘End of life at home’. I was, admittedly, taken quite aback by what I first read as “Death Dracula”. But, even as various images were skirting though my head, I re-read the word. It was “Doula”. Which I had to look up. A Doula is a type of midwife, helping one to exit, instead of enter, this world. As I said – live and learn.

The World Is More Than Terror

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What sights indeed are these, that cause the racing clocks to pant their minutes in counterpoint to a life still learning the difference between wretchedness and love?

The swing goes up and the swing goes down, and then goes up again. If you are on that race, with childish yells, and up-down-mess-it-around feelings in the pit of your stomach, they haven’t lowered that coffin lid yet.

No, not yet.

****

What sights indeed are these, that make a heart argue the worth of dying, and ring the bells across the hill when there is no hand upon the rope?

There are happy tunes on the breeze and, yes, even the unicorn lifts its head with twitching ears and mouth agape.

And even (so it has been recorded, in long-ago books) our Lord Jesus God would pause in His ministrations at the wonder of it all.

****

What sights indeed are these, that ease the night’s passage and sow the fields full of restful dawn?

A race against the end is run by all of us; when the kitten kicks and purrs through her ball of string, or when the ancient’s cane tap-taps across the room. Eyes, whether young; or dim; or blind; can still open in amazement, and still marvel at the ever-changing newness.

Marvel and rejoice.

****

What sights indeed are these, that turn all tunes into rhapsodies of joy, and make the moon do gypsy dances through the night sky?

A sky of stars that shower and shake and stream across the galaxies to cram unto the ends of the distant universe. Grains of sand upon the shore would take sensitive fingers, and a lifetime of counting, yet still could never fill this distant space where even numbers stand in awe.

Zeros with mouths agape.

(image) http://www.chemistryland.com/CHM130S/07-Mole/SandInHand.jpg

The Druids Prepare For All Hallows As The Dead Approach

 slide_336017_3406844_freeThe Celts knew every celebration has its risks.

The Druids taught them this, and the Druids are correct. Samhain is a festival of the harvest; the end of summer; the preparation for the winter to come. Samhain is a juncture. 

As they all know, junctures lead to sundry places. There is both the leaving and the coming. A time of disquiet. A time of danger for those unprepared.

It holds the magic and the power of midnight. Midnight is a powerful time because it is the juncture of two days. Midnight of Samhain thus holds double the power. It can not be avoided. It must be met with all the power mortal man can muster. It must not be met alone.

On the Eve of Samhain, the border between Life and the OtherWorld is breached. A door swings invitingly open, but it is not inviting those who live. It is inviting  those who have died. The Dead who still miss their lives. The long Dead who still are curious.The distant Dead who get a whiff of fresh air, and have their memories stirred.

So the Dead approach.

The Dead approach. The living must prepare to meet them, just as they prepare for the vicissitudes of winter. The same threatened cold holds sway over both. The living assemble the treats and threats that will assuage the longings of the Dead.

Because the living have a healthy fear of death, they equally wish to avoid the Dead. The Dead can prove to be envious, and attempt to relieve the living of their lives. Lanterns from the earth are hollowed out of turnips. Their light will guide the dead to safer places (safer for the living). Candles will shine through carved faces. Some faces are friendly and welcoming. Some are ugly and fierce, to give aggressive Dead a pause.

There will also be treats to entice the Dead – apples and pastries and savouries and some roasted game fresh from the bonfires. There will be ale and other spirits to keep the Spirits at bay. The living will wear costumes and masks to disguise themselves from those Dead who might wish their company to be more permanent.

They will remove the masks if the Spirits are friendly.

They will dance and sing and raise a right ruckus to entertain the Dead.

The boneyard is on the outskirts of town. Revellers approach with noise and caution. A bonfire is set. The moon hangs from the trees. The gated fence stands closed and latched. The living pause and watch. And listen.

Is it the wind, or do the hinges scrape the stone?

(image)i.huffpost.com/gadgets/slideshows/336017/slide_336017_3406844_free.jpg

Gulled By The Gull – The Smart Bird Strikes

 

seagull-beakI was by the harbour – chilly though it was – standing on one of the wharfs that was still in sunlight.

I had been cautious as I approached the edge, because I did not want to disturb an injured seagull, It was huddled beside a corner post, trying to stay out of the wind. I figured there was enough room for both of us.

The gull did shift its weight from time to time, and seemed to keep its side toward the wind. It was not a sleek-looking bird, and had misaligned feathers on one of its wings. It favoured an odd side-hop when it moved. I wondered what misadventure it might have experienced.

There was little traffic on the harbour, but the sunshine and clear sky made the water a deep and beautiful blue. I was looking out toward the ocean proper when a commotion startled me. My decrepit gull was fast into the air and then, even faster, into the water. Seconds later the bird was back in the air, its beak full of crab.

The gull landed a very safe distance from me. It began to dispatch the crab with fast and furious strikes of its beak. The gull kept the crab on its back as it pecked away at the softer underside. This was no delicate fine dining, as pieces of the crab’s shell flew in various directions, and made sounds as they landed on the surrounding dock. Soon, the only motions the crab made were from the piercing of the gull’s beak.

Considering that I dine – admittedly, with a tad more finesse – upon lobster, I had no problem with the gull acquiring its own meal. It had been earned.

And I will make no more assumptions about the state of gulls by appearance alone.

(image) http://www.cepolina.com/photo/nature/animals/birds/seagull/gull/4/seagull-beak.jpg

For The Anniversary of Leonard Cohen’s Birth

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Happily, I managed to see Leonard Cohen twice (at the beginning, and near the end) of his last extended tour. Once was in the intimate venue of a few hundred folk in a small theatre. The other was in a civic stadium holding thousands. He was exquisite in both.

In my novel, Fame’s Victim, my famous protagonist, ST (famous for his discoveries of Space/Time)  and Leonard Cohen, dine out in Montréal after attending the funeral of yet someone else famous, Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

The following is part of their day.

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From Fame’s Victim:

At the table ST begins to pull out a chair which will put his back to the street, but Cohen clicks his tongue and moves the chair until it is nearly beside the other.

“We’ll sit together. We’ll twin their delight.”

“If they approach . . . “

Cohen winks. “You won’t have to sing a note.”

ST settles beside the poet and gives himself up to the street scene. Regardless of the chill in the air most of this early afternoon crowd have made little concession to the time of year. The women especially seem as fashionably and attractively attired as any he has seen in any public place.

“The ladies are alluring.” ST smiles.

“Antidote to the black of funeral garb.”

ST notes the usual ‘double take’ of those pedestrians who happen to look their way. Barely is eye contact made however before it is quickly removed. Couples immediately chat together, but there is not one finger pointed in their direction.

“What would you like to drink?”

ST looks away from the street and smiles as an unexpected thought takes him.

“Champagne. Will they have something decent here?”

“They will offer a selection.”

With a half-raised arm and the gesture of a finger, the waitress is summoned. Upon hearing the request she lists a half dozen champagnes. ST chooses one he knows will be as crisp as the day.

“Any food?”

“Dear God – yes.” ST smiles at the waitress then glances at the other man. “Any suggestions?”

“They stuff a chicken breast here with portebello mushrooms, feta and wild rice.” He touches his lips. “With a Greek salad it is a meal to embrace.”

“That sounds fine.” ST looks back to the waitress. “But bring the champagne now.”

“Are we to toast?” Cohen watches the waitress walk away as he speaks. “Or are we to mourn?”

“I less and less mourn the dead.” ST also watches the waitress leave. “They are lost to us but they are not lost to time.”

“Then we acknowledge?”

“Yes.” ST turns to the street. “The only time I met the Prime Minister – mere months ago – he desired we have champagne. It is a memory to share.”

“Memory – the ghost at every table.”

The noontime crowd has run its course and, just as with the café clientele, the number of people on the street become fewer. However word-of-mouth has spread and everyone makes a pass of the café. Other than being the object of glances and smiles, the two men are not interrupted. Pedestrian traffic does slow however when the bottle of champagne arrives.

“They want a show.” Cohen runs a finger over the cold bottle.

“There’s a proper way.” The waitress is winding a white napkin around the bottle.

“In tandem, don’t you think?” The poet glances at ST.

“That will make the news of the world.” ST indicates the number of cameras and video recorders among the crowd.

“It should be the news of the world.”

The waitress is not certain of his intent, but when Cohen stands beside her with a generous smile she hands him the bottle. He lets the napkin fall to the table and holds the champagne – label out – toward the street. ST gets to his feet amid the click-click-click of cameras and begins to remove the wire basket.

“You can not share my déjà vu but, trust me, Time is doubling over with laughter.”

ST begins to twist the cork, his other hand around the bottle’s neck even though Cohen holds the base. When he feels the cork start to give, he puts both thumbs against it and shoves. As it explodes into the Montreal sky the waitress holds the two glasses and, amid the welling applause from the street, ST pours the champagne.

“We begin to set the clocks at normal.” The poet takes both glasses and the flustered waitress flees.

“By drinking champagne at noon?” ST reaches for the offered glass.

“By showing we no longer need to mourn.” Cohen’s smile contains wry triumph. “Time is pulling out of the station and now we need to jump on board.”

“With a sip of champagne?” ST brings his glass to his lips.

Cohen gives a slight bow to the street. “The most effective slight-of-hand is the trick that’s seen by all.”

 

Happy Birthday, Franz Kafka!

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Yes, 03 July is Kafka’s birthday.
Imagine all the celebrations running rampant in the world.
No doubt a hearty rendition of “Hip hip hooray” and the occasional exuberant “Huzzah!”, echo through each major city and every quiet hamlet.
In my novel about him, Kafka In The Castle, I gave him this diary entry.
03 July 1918
 
The anniversary of my birth.

In celebration of the day, I did not make it my last.

Why There Are Many Reasons To Give Thanks For My Life

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Buddy and I are waiting for a bus. Hours ahead await us on the trip, though we go to different destinations. I guess proximity is the reason he starts to talk to me, there being nobody else close.

This conversation is edited, though mostly for continuity.

Buddy : Gotta great day.
Me: Yes. (and it is – the weather is some grand)
Buddy: I’ve come half way across Canada, and still have to take the boat to Newfoundland. (this means another 8 hours on the bus for him, and 9 hours on the ferry)
Me: Hope you can sleep on the boat.
Buddy: And then another twelve hours hitching across the province.
Me: You sure have me beat. (I have 7 hours ahead of me, half by train)
Buddy: I don’t know what will happen. My friend says the church will help people.
Me: You’re not going home?
Buddy; Nope – all dead.
Me: That’s tough.
Buddy: That’s my Mom there. (he points to one of his bags) Got her ashes to bury.
Me: You have a sad time.
Buddy: Found her at the end of the driveway.
Me: What?
Buddy: In the urn. My girlfriend threw all my stuff out. That’s where it rolled.
Me: All your things?
Buddy: I had to store my stuff. Just money left for the bus and the ferry.
Me: I gotta say that sounds cold.
Buddy: She’s keeping my last disability cheque.
Me: What?
Buddy $1,700. Says I owe her.
Me: Do you?
Buddy: I guess. Anyway, there’s no going back there.
Me: That’s what it sounds like.

(At this point the bus driver arrives, asking what luggage is to go under the bus)

Buddy: Not that one. (he points to the one with the ashes) That comes with me.

 

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Franz Kafka Ponders Death from “Kafka In The Castle”

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(Statue from the Kafka Museum, Prague)

07 June 1917

I wonder what my final thought will be – just before I die. I was moments away from death this afternoon, as I stepped unheeding onto the tram tracks. The motorman’s frantic bell made me leap. Had I been too slow, my last thoughts would have concerned where and when to take my vacation. Not very glorious last thoughts to possess.

But, had I the time granted to me, what would I chose to think about? Perhaps F. Perhaps the writing – I’d like to finish the novel. Would I torture myself thinking about father? Would I accept that my past – now that it was ending – was finally settled. Or would I instead – and this is what I really expect – be wondering what I was going to miss tomorrow?

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