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“Who Is Kafka? Who Is Anyone?”

Kafka’s Metamorphosis

I came across a wonderful poem by Asher Reich about Franz Kafka on the website of Haaretz, the Israel News. It is called

Who Is Kafka? Who Is Anyone?

Every time I looked at his picture I saw a different person.
The man waiting at the gate
is not Kafka, though his name begins with K.

The surveyor is not Kafka, nor is the lord of the castle
who is pretending to be the lord of the castle.
Is the cockroach Kafka, or vice versa? The cockroach
is playing itself, not the man Kafka. The man

whose picture is printed in the newspaper was born in Prague
and looks like Kafka, but he isn’t Kafka. He’s an insurance
agent called Josef K. who is sure he is
Kafka. The judge who glories in the rare name Kafka
is an actor in the play “The Trial” adapted

from Kafka’s book. Who is the hunger artist?
Did Kafka submit the report to the academy, or vice versa?
Was Kafka the jailer at the penal colony, or
vice versa: a wretched prisoner?! The police say
they have arrested Kafka for conspiring to burn his writings
and there are two witnesses who confirm his identity.

But it’s not Kafka. It’s his friend Max, who didn’t burn them,
because he pursued one-eyed justice. Was Kafka’s
vegetarianism only anti-meat or did his asceticism
imprison his life, which was one long suicide?
So who and what is this Kafka whose identity has faded?
The man who was against life, an exile in his own body,
succumbing to the sweet taste of sickness, or vice versa?

Autographed Still from Orson Welles’s Film of The Trial

The Max referred to in the poem was Kafka’s friend Max Brod, who decided not to destroy Kafka’s writings as his friend made him promise to do.

Translated by Vivian Eden. The Hebrew poem will be included in Reich’s “Selected Poems,” forthcoming at Mossad Bialik.

 

 

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