KAFKA IN PROGRESS:
Trains of Thought…
The Unreliable Narrator
Yes he had every intention of saying something, but may have back-logged everything in his FOR-GO/GIVE/LORN file, where it remains after months of inattention and may at this point be of less urgency or importance than the moment it arrived because…because?… Or he may have lost it entirely for whatever reason, or accidentally deleted it…or unintentionally filed it elsewhere because his mind remains a muddle these days, even more so than usual given the state of mind he cannot find himself in…too frequently lost in progress…reminiscent of that Eastern European train station once upon a time not long ago where he found himself somewhere in Poland on his way from Lodz to Wroclaw, where he felt abandoned in the dark, in the light, in the cold, in the emptiness of the station, a dislocated foreigner pacing in circles…up and down empty platforms, eyes following empty tracks into an abyss, a train to take him somewhere–the next leg of an inspired, ill-planned journey–from Wroclaw to?… To Prague, to find Kafka’s grave, but his words there and then, here and now like Kafka’s meaning everything and nothing…a foreigner bereft of language, of Polish or German …and even if he could voice a word, there was no one to bear witness…no one to approach in a station as empty as a midnight parking lot in America. Sprechen sie …nada… English, foreign on his own tongue…2:33 a.m.…nobody to express his alienation…no woman to touch gently on the arm, to lead or be led astray, to tell untranslatable tales of his travails…no derelict hunched in sleep along a wall, no cripple begging for attention, not single human being to express his confusion, fear, abandonment, the smallest flicker of desire to, if there were anything worth desiring other than words that meant something, said something, led somewhere. And so he stood, stone dead in place, eyes focused fiercely on cold steel rails waiting deliverance. Cold creeping from his toes in torn shoes…to quivering legs, empty stomach, hollow chest, fragile arms, numb fingers…listening to conversations in his head, stammering, falling (first) accidentally upon his old Catholic knee in genuflection, then both knees in supplication (the Poles would know the man in bended knees), recalling Latin, confession, contrition till the sound of an engine, screeching steel wheels…answered prayers…pushing himself up from the pavement, finding his footing, Gloria in excelsis Deo…breaking into a hobbled run toward car after slowly passing car…as the train shudders to a halt, comes to rest, exuding steam…thrumming…heaving …exiting a few wearisome passengers in the brevity and breath of something like silence, in and out…as he feels his body in desperate motion, the weight of everything he carried, boarding the first empty step, then heaving a heavy suitcase of books in front of him…stepping up, into, away from wherever he was, to wherever the train was destined to take him at a black hour of the day that was one long night. The compartment, blindingly bright. He settles into himself. The seat across from him bearing a sole woman passenger, her head leaning into the dark window glass…unaware of his presence, his broken breathing, his disarray. Opening one eye, looking Slavic to her, she mumbles something to him in Czech. He remembers the sound, says the word “Praha”? She nods yes, closes her eyes while he stretches his legs, falls into a fitful sleep and awakes later in daylight, someone shaking his arm, speaking what sounds like German…the woman gone, the train at a standstill. The conductor holding open the compartment door, helping with the heavy suitcase, leading him off the train to the platform…pointing to a sign on the station wall: KRAKOW.
“From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached,” whispers Kafka again—and again.
He rents a room, sleeps the remainder of the morning, recalls enough history of where he now finds himself to board a local bus to Auschwitz and walk alone beneath the metal sign above the entrance to the camp: Arbeit Macht Frei welcomes him as it welcomed those who came by train before him fifty years ago and left in ashes.
Yet another invisible station of the cross to bear that was never mentioned in his WWII Catholic childhood or ever appeared in the “living way of the cross” in the final pages of his little black book…his Latin-English Sunday missal.
Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipoténtem, factórem caeli et terrae, visibílium ómnium, et invisíbilium. [I believe in one God, the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.]
Visible piles of prayer shawls, windows of shoes, sacks of human hair, mounds of eye glasses…
End of line…of language…of never-ending story…
“Anyone who cannot come to terms with his life while he is alive needs one hand to ward off a little his despair over his fate…but with his other hand he can note down what he sees among the ruins,” wrote Kafka, German-Czech-Jew, before his time, this time, our time…
“To be continued…” final words to learn at every beginning.
To be continued…far from there and then. How did he get here anyway? This was not the beginning when these words began to fill the page five weeks ago? Eight weeks ago? Ten weeks ago? Endless revision, slow progression. The mood of any moment changing everything. This is not where he was headed. End it right here. Begin again. Dead ends. His intent, concern, destination, was to write of chance. Something he wrestles with still. That he’s still here after where he’d been two years ago, a year ago, last month, this week, yesterday, today, a moment ago. Chasing the ephemeral. Being dogged by it. Breakfast with a friend. The engrossing stories, everywhere in one small community–the living, the shattered, the dead—continuing to be. On the phone with an old love. In the pages of Graham Greene: “Point me out the happy man and I will point you out either extreme egotism, evil—or else an absolute ignorance.” Correspondence with a woman who can’t help but love one’s neighbor, given all that she is. Love to be given, to be returned—in abundance. To be continued…to pick up the unbearable crosses again…struggle–doubt, despair, delusion. dissolution, uncertainty. To consider the litany of loss, known or witnessed, in all its forms in just one year’s time: youth, middle age, old age, bad hearts, cancerous cells, broken limbs, fevered minds, addictions, accidental deaths, abandoned relationships, betrayals, self-inflicted wounds … Chance. That was the train of thought he had no choice to pursue but pursued him.
To be continued…yet in the end: Those who seek to make art often find themselves alone.
To be continued…so what was the original destination he set out to journey, back there then or here now in place? That lost train of thought? Moving forward…whatever the direction. So this is about that. About that and not about other things on his mind… Daily life? The ordinary day? Where is the language? The correct words? Sex, death, and melancholy. Were those the right words that came to him last night? An unsettling monologue? Sex, death, isolation and hostility?
Why did he pick this book FALLING from the shelf that night and open it to this…and feel, yes…to begin here:
“We all from time to time feel lucky, feel we are to be favored by chance, and most of us secretly, even shamefully, believe we can enhance our luck with totems, prayers, private rituals, and magical thinking. We want to protect ourselves from the vagaries of chance, the chilling randomness that dictates who is and who isn’t the victim of falling trees, flying bullets, drunk drivers, birth defects, tumors, viruses, lightning, that determines who does and who doesn’t receive the sandwich containing the spoiled bacon, the ticket on the plane that will hit wind sheer when landing in Denver, the fatally incorrect diagnosis from the overworked emergency-room resident. It is easy to dismiss luck as a delusion, a superstitious fantasy manufactured in some primitive layer of the human mind. But what separates magical thinking from positive thinking? Aren’t they both simply manifestations of our attitude? Isn’t a belief in luck simply a way of expressing our faith in ourselves?”
How did he find himself speechless one afternoon in Auschwitz amidst piles of shoes and eye glasses, boarding a train the next day which would plummet him to Prague in search of Kafka’s grave, as if any answers awaited him there?
To be continued…