Karen Greenbaum-Maya


Kafka is funny but no one laughs. I will explain, then you too will not laugh. Kafka is funny because he writes in German. All those weighty words strung together: German is a pratfall waiting to happen. Kafka knows he is funnier than Proust, who clowns, strumming and fingering a tennis racket like a banjo while enjoying a vacation with his parents. Kafka would not descend to such stunts. Also, his parents never take vacations.

What is funny? Try a corner as the way out. Or a door made only to block your way, only to be shut in your face—pure slapstick. Keaton lives for material like that. Joyce can’t be funny unless he is lewd, but Kafka won’t work blue. A kidney in the pocket, the wind blowing words away: such cheap effects. Singing mice, girls with webbed hands, writing a punishing line a thousand times—the Marx Brothers would kill for a bit like that, and Chaplin would die to get his hands on it.

How, how to learn to be funny. Start as a vegetarian with a butcher for a father. How about money to make up for losing your hand? Could anything be more absurd? Perhaps getting less money for losing half your hand. But what portion of the hand is enough to matter? A thumb, yes, but what about a pinkie? At the Workers’ Compensation office, Kafka ponders such things every day, all day long, and then they give him money. Why? As well ask a jackdaw why he crosses the road.

Stonewall Jackson’s Last Words, co-axial

Let us

cross over

the river and


in the shade

of the trees

Suppose you could

land where

the river alone would ever sleep.

-less counting sheep

could work. Let their sighs drown out the world

crashing down around you.

Endless Water

You dive off a high white cube, no railings, no board, you spill into the ocean fifty feet below. The waves are pale blue, ruffled and regular, piped icing on a vast cake. Swim, crawl, paddle like a dog to the white raft, that loose tooth in the ocean’s wide mouth, haul out and pivot and launch yourself back into cold water. Climb up the flush ladder, the ribbed iron rungs, back up to the deck. The clock is running. Fast as you can, your teammates are panting, the next one is waiting, one after the other until someone gives out. Always alone in the ocean. Try to convince yourself: you only have to swim through the top part, not the endless water underneath. No second chance, no silver medal. Bereft of crops and songs, consumed in tribute, the people must labor to fill their mouths with the enemy’s words. If you stop to gulp soup—scramble as you hang onto the raft, your legs clawing through the water, instead of pulling out with a clean vault—if your cold hands scrabble at the round metal rungs—defeat will be your fault. Better to be swallowed up.

Karen Greenbaum-Maya is a retired clinical psychologist, German Lit. major, and two-time Pushcart nominee whose poems and photos have appeared in many journals. Kattywompus Press publishes her two chapbooks Burrowing Song (2013) and Eggs Satori (2014). Links to work online: www.cloudslikemountains.blogspot.com/.
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