From the cycle “Kafka”

Transitions №3

Author: Vladimir Ermolaev

Translated by Anna Halberstadt


a prison where one can’t hear screams
there are no screams
walls too tall for a bird to fly over them
there are no birds
watchtowers are always empty
there are no guards
shadows move together
and never apart
pegs pivots are well regulated
knives are sharpened
sentences are pronounced and carried out
of their own accord
no need for inspections

“kaf-fka” is an abbreviation for “kafka forever-forever kafka”, a play on a famous inscription on Hell Angels’ chevrons: AFFA (Angels Forever Forever Angels).


It’s not so difficult to be kafka
one only needs to get used to insomnia or strange dreams
in which one is being shred to pieces with a huge kitchen knife
or being dragged on a rope through the whole house from the lower floor
to the upper and further straight through the roof
with such fervor that only an empty noose appears
above the roof and pieces of your flesh remain scattered
on the stairs and crossings

it’s not so difficult to be kafka
one only needs to teach oneself to stop paying attention
to nausea rashes palpitations these terrible headaches
when your skull presses on your brain with such force
that the brain seeps through the tiniest pores in your bones
to the fear of aging and fear of youth
fear of death and fear of living
to the constant urge to jump out the window

it’s not so difficult to be kafka
if you can learn to tolerate small table talk at meals
card games looking at your sister immersed in a book
or absentmindedly picking her teeth with a business card
noise in the room next to you where they are emptying ashes
or singing and are having fun with other peoples’ kids a baby crying
in the house across the street your father boasting and chiding
working in a factory inspections reports conversations with the boss
and the co-workers

it’s very difficult to be kafka
when you feel you are not capable of writing when
you feel exhausted after the very first line
when phrases come out with empty spaces in which
one could dip one’s arm up to the elbow when you
can’t find a border separating life and horror when
you dream of a large sip of cold water and feel grateful
to the people who produced spaghetti because their
products are so tender that even
your necrotic throat is capable of swallowing them


kafka’s trial is being started
by kafka himself
kafka arrests himself
and takes himself
to the place of the trial
kafka takes over the role
of a prosecutor
kafka asks himself
to be his attorney
kafka testifies as a witness
of both prosecution and defense
kafka follows the proceedings
from the benches for spectators
somewhere a door bangs
this is kafka
a sudden draft comes
this is kafka
a clock chimes
this is kafka
somebody coughs
this is kafka
a scribe dips his quill in kafka
and writes minutes
on kafka
all of this is taking place
in kafka
and happens to be kafka
in and of itself