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
Need sensitive fingers,
And a lifetime of counting,
To fill this distant space where
The very numbers stand in awe.
Zeros with mouths agape
Alison Alexandra sometimes thinks of turning over a new leaf. Sometimes at the most traditional of times, like at New Year or her birthday or under a full moon or when the tide is at its highest. But then she remembers that well into her pre-teen years she thought the expression to turn over a new leaf meant reaching into the branches of a tree and flipping her wrist (somewhat like Amanda does when cutting cards) and when she found out the flip flip flipping concerned paper pages she was so bored she never did it. No, not once.
And anyway, why would she overturn anything in some sort of orderly fashion when she pell-mell turns things over at the very time they seem that they need to be overturned and not a minute or an hour or a full moon or one leaf later. That now is indeed now is, indeed, now and as she daily finds out from her windows or cliffs overlooking the ocean; tide and time await no Alison Alexandra. So she will not wait for them.
Alison Alexandra has often thought – and she also often thinks – that she could happily turn over all her leaves just from her prow-of-a-ship room jutting into the sea or the cliffs that, as yet, do not erode under her feet as she walks them looking out to sea. But that would be unwise and probably as stagnant as a rotting fish that sometimes lodges itself at the base of her cliff and though she has not travelled as often as those sailors and their spyglasses, she has travelled as far as many of them just to keep those leaves flip flip flipping.
So, today she is going to walk to town.
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.
08 June 1917
A Gypsy confronted me today, and I was in the mood for a bit of sport. Her age was difficult to tell – certainly a decade older than me. In her swirl of shawls and dangling jewellery, heavy make-up on her face, she could almost have been in disguise. She peered at me with an intense sigh, attempting – I am sure – to penetrate my own disguise.
“You are a Jew,” she said.
“And you a Gypsy,” I replied.
She seemed pleased with my response, for her professional smile became real.
“You state the obvious,” she said. “As becomes a Doktor of Laws,”
I replied. “But to your eyes, do you not state the obvious?”
“Are you going to banter with a poor old Gypsy woman, instead of barter? That would make you suspiciously like one of us.” She said this with a growl in her throat.
“The Gypsy and the Jew,” I said, feeling the challenge which I so miss. “Perhaps an opera – but I think it’s been done to death.”
“They will try to do us all unto death,” she said harshly, and turned away.
I had the fear she was going to leave me without another word, but what she did was to spit fulsomely onto the street.
“They can’t kill us all,” I said, but I knew she heard the doubt in my voice.
She slowly faced me again.
“So. Even a Doktor of Laws can have hope. That is refreshing – but foolish.” She took my hand and felt my palm roughly with her thumb, although all the while her eyes never left my face. “You are going to travel.”
“Travel is a vague word. One can go on many types of voyage.”
“And reach many destinations,” she added, still holding my hand. “If you take away my vagueness, you take away my trade.”
“Then let me pay you for your services right now.”
This transaction would make her loose my hand, which is what I wanted most of all. She had frightened me, for her eyes and face were full of truth. I know the truth. I know it when it presents itself, stark and unobscured. I search out truth endlessly, yet still can flee at its approach. As in her eyes. But she gripped me more fiercely, and pulled my hand up.
“The coin, Herr Doktor.” Her voice was now soft. “The coin can wait.”
She at last lowered her eyes and looked closely at my palm. She rubbed the lines and whorls of my skin. She touched her finger to her lips, and spread the moisture along my hand.
“Your lifeline, Herr Doktor,” she took a quick look in my eyes, “of Laws. You deceive with the youth upon your face. Is that not so?”
“If your eyes stop at the mask, then no, the years have not etched themselves deeply.”
“Not on your face, Herr Doktor of Laws.” Her grip was intense. “But on your palm…” She hissed. “You will soon embark upon that final voyage.”
She released my hand, rubbed her fingers across her sleeve.
“But you will not go in haste. There will be many stops along the way.”
Suddenly her face was full of the most beautiful smile, and her laughter was genuine.
“I see you do not complain of vagueness now.” She held out her hand. “The coin, Herr Doktor of Laws. This time I have truly earned it.”
I dug deeply into my pocket, and feared that I may have overpaid her. But, perhaps, that is not possible.
(Image drawn by Franz Kafka)
In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in his lost diaries. Here, as the learned Doktor of Laws, he has been asked to speak to the citizens of the small village where he is living with his sister for a few months. He speaks the truth, and avoids the truth.
15 January 1918
This war. They wanted my opinions about this endless war. These earnest, honest men, awaiting the words from the Herr Doktor of Prague.
I agreed only to answer questions – that way I could not be accused of fermenting treason. Even in these troubled times, the law allows a man to answer questions. Assuming that the law prevails.
The law was present in the form of the policeman, attending this questionable gathering while still in uniform. He doffed his hat as he shook my hand. I would rather have him in our midst, than lurking in the hall. We have nothing to fear from him.
“Will the empire last?” This was first from their lips. And they must have needed to hear the words, for even the Emperor must know that all is lost. The Old Order, having fallen into the hands of dull and witless men, must succumb. The complacency of the age must be purged – but that has not yet happened. That awaits the next generation – and the destruction will be furious. But I do not tell them this.
I am skilful in what I do not tell them, for the truth is beyond their power to persuade or control. (Their next questions would have been more difficult had I not curbed the truth further still.) “What will happen to Zurau? What will happen to us?” And they have every right to worry. To suspect. When a society crumbles, it is those at the bottom who get crushed. But I told them that Amerika seemed a just power – not bent on retribution.
I did not tell them that a victor can do as he wants.
And I told them that we live in a secondary part of a secondary empire – the powers of destruction will be concentrated on Vienna and Berlin. I did not tell them that during the death of a snake, the spasms of the tail can be lethal.
And I told them something which could really be of help. I told them, in this coming year, to grow more food: fatten more beasts: prepare, preserve and put away. Fill their cellars and barns to bursting with food and fuel. Buy some things now, which they can use for barter later if the currency becomes worthless. Look after their families and lands. Look after each other.
16 January 1918
I did not tell them that war is the end result of injustice and arrogance, and that it is oftentimes necessary. I did not tell them that when the natural balance is upset by human action, the cost of righting it must be made in human payment. I did not tell them that a country where neighbour is cruel to neighbour is a country mean for war.
17 January 1918
I did not tell them how the Jews will always suffer in time of war. How we will be searched out, then driven as far as the east is from the west, and then be persecuted. How there will never be safety for us. Yea, even unto the land of Israel.
Though it will give you no pleasure (well, ‘little’ pleasure) you are correct in all your observations.
Governments become the tools of the bureaucracies that run them. It doesn’t matter what type of Government, from the monarchy under which you lived, to the right-wing horror of fascists that called themselves socialists, to the inept socialism pretending to be ‘for the people’. All three governments held sway over the city where you spent your life. All three oppressed the people they ruled. All three looked after themselves first.
Writers are either writers or they aren’t. The urge to write encircles one like a snake around its prey. Feed it and it won’t quite squeeze you to death. You can not ignore it – even at your peril. It is with you every hour of every day, ever inquisitive and (sadly) always looking for something better.
Love is a see-saw of extremes. Every high guarantees a low. Every low reaches for a high. Every high reaches for a high. When these hills and valleys are eventually levelled, they are still desired.
Sex is highly over rated. The thing of it is, even rated fairly “’tis a consummation devoutly to be had”. Yes – I know – you appreciate Shakespeare. On a par with Goethe, even if you can’t bring yourself to say the words.
People are just one damned thing after another. Of course, so many people have brought you blessings that you throw up you hands to ward off the snake. Sometimes loosening its grip.
There is no castle with walls thick enough to hide against the perils of being human. Which is why you never tried.
Except the grave, of course.
Except the grave.
The Trial is over.