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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 13: May 2022
Microfiction: 340 words
By Karen Greenbaum-Maya

Kafka at the Long Table


Kafka’s father has insisted. If you must write, why not at least get somewhere with it? A reputable professor—published in the respectable journals!—is holding a seminar. Go, see what he can make of you. Kafka finds it simpler to go than to try to explain his so-called process.

Seven women, another man, and the professor. No one he knows, thank G*d. They have all written in Czech. The prof says almost nothing, keeps a fixed smile, lowers his gaze. Kafka is heartened by the distance, the lack of response. The other man reads his piece first. Kafka starts to hum. Funny, he says, It’s a lot like the “Ode to Joy,” freely translated of course, with some other bits, angry bits, calls to arms really, hateful actually, stuck in here and there. Strange contrast to the brotherhood theme.

Absorbed in tracking his memory of the words, he starts to sing, the better to point out the hate-filled new parts. Like many skinny men, Kafka sings bass. He has always been mortified by the robust and resonant sound of his voice. For once he is blissed-out, caught up in the music.

Friends! My friends!
Not those notes!
Rather, a joyful song!

He leans into the plea, he puts in all the exclamation points, he pauses for the orchestral call-and-response, hearing its support. Now the professor has woken up. He too recognizes the Ode. It looks like the other man expected no one else to know the piece, neither words nor music. And he doesn’t even feel shame at being caught in theft, for he shoots Kafka an actinic glare like launched ordnance. Kafka wonders uneasily if he should perhaps not walk home alone. Even the ladies of the group are looking at Kafka in horror. Is it because he writes in German, or because he spoke up? Was he wrong to know the music and its words? Was it his singing? How, how to get out of this?

Karen Greenbaum-Maya
Issue 13, May 2022

is a retired clinical psychologist, former German major and restaurant reviewer, and a two-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Her first full sentence was, “Look at the moon!” Poems have appeared in Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, B O D Y, CHEST, Spillway, and Rappahannock Poetry Review. Her collections include The Book of Knots and Their Untying (Kelsay Books, 2016), and three chapbooks from Kattywompus Press: Burrowing Song (2013), Eggs Satori (2014), and Kafka’s Cat (2019). She is currently working on a collection of poems about her husband’s illness and death of lung cancer in 2018. She co-curates Fourth Sundays, a poetry series in Claremont, California.

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