[from Mary Ruefle's memling's veil, 1982]
Six Arguments with Kafka
The story about the white horse, Franz,
the one who lept out of your ear as you
awoke: admit it; another drowsy fantasy.
The truth is, it probably snowed during
the night, and the white walls took on
another octave of white. Nevertheless,
something with haunches has assembled
itself in front of me. I can’t go on
like this. Can you get it to move,
Franz? Pretend there’s a corral in
your inner ear. Any kind of nimble
leap will do.
You complained about a bit of singing on the floor
below you: what kind of behavior is that? There are
mice here, scratching a ledger on the inside wall,
and I have the indifference of an angel. I know the
difference between objects and things. Look out my
window, how the clouds knit themselves together like
an infant’s skull, evening closing over an object full
of things: it’s ingenious and unimportant. I am sure
there’s nothing alive here, yet in anything tortuous
I might find it. The horrible birds of early dawn, so
many screeching monkeys flitting from tree to tree!
The endless tossing of mice! And those men below you,
they still sing, pouring your sorrow out the window!
I’m barely surpassing the desire to join in.
On the pavement, another rotten peach, exposed to any
random glance: Franz, it’s your heart!
We have a lot in common: grenadine and seltzer,
paralyzation on the sofa, astonishment: there’s
something to take by the waist! Being left alone with a
sentence, the weight of which compels one to lie down.
I know the pleasure of an absent-minded doctor,
tapping around the heart as if he weren’t sure.
But I never shared your thirst for opera: it’s
pointless, a grand scale of semblance resembling
nothing. Every time you yielded to it, I was sick,
which seemed closer to everything than the gargling
of angels! At times, your own proximity carried a
certain stench: the night you didn’t want to join us
in the café: I haven’t forgotten. The truth is, I
was glad. You always spoiled my evening, looking around
the tables for a drinking vessel in the shape of a bird.
Another thing, Franz, I despised: how you moved
through the Goethehaus with the sadness of a
cow. Of course the garden had gone on growing
since his death! No remorse in that—it’s gone
right on growing since you died as well.
Whether you stood still or embarked, your guilt
was the same. It’s senseless to go on! Even the
prospect of visiting your grave bores me. Though
I might return to the coffee house in Milan, where
after discussing asphyxia and possible heart
injections, we went different ways. Later, I
came running out of another street almost into
your arms. Once more I saw your hands, your eyes:
quiet, dilapidated things. To spare me, you turned
I am standing at the blackboard, Franz, writing
as many times as I can stand it as many times
as I can stand it. The things you carved on your
desk: they’re still here. Somewhere among the linked
initials and names that are still the names of the
students now, I found that scratched hardship
I am free to repeat myself. And like a real birth
you were always covered with filth and slime.
Nothing will tell you how to survive. Each moment
is done a different way. Once it was
a living angel, now the painted figurehead off
the prow of some ship suffices, and you can die
believing you have survived, but how will you know?
Franz, there are times I am sure it is something
I am trying to remember; then suddenly I am certain
it is something I am trying to forget.
I have lied, but it is a continuation of the lie
I always told you, that I might get the truth in
return. The truth is, I am not compelled to walk
about the streets talking to people. I have been
sitting at the window for seven months now, afraid
to sleep, keeping an eye on the uncertain weather.
There have been days without a single change, but I
have grown accustomed to the significance of every
piece of furniture. A few burrs of literature still
cling to my sleeve. They no longer matter. I’m set in
my ways: you wouldn’t recognize me. That place between my
eyes, where errors disappeared like magic, disappeared
like an error. And you, Franz, wrapped in a single long
bandage—you’re bound by the endless, my friend!
How I long for the old days! Once more, Franz, let’s
go out together and slit the throat of a sparrow.