A Web Del Sol Chapbook Selection
William Slaughter


Dear Franz...

Visitors at Kafka's grave in Prague
leave notes in many languages behind them.


Do you have an address?
Is there post restante
where you are, dear Franz?

Here at your grave
in the New Jewish Cemetery
your mail is piling up.


Your city has a hold on me
too, dear Franz. Prague
is still the ‘dear little mother’
you said she was, loving
her ‘sharp claws’ as you did.

Allow me this:
love is never unambiguous.
Prague did not let go of you;
you let go of her. There
were other women in your life.


Milena is the name
not written here.

Felice, to whom you broke
your promise. Twice.
J.W., with whom you had
both kinds of luck.
And Dora...
Last love, not first,
is the great surprise.
She was there
in the end, dear Franz,
but not for you to marry.
You were afraid,
you said,
of domestic life—
insufficient air.
All you had to offer her
was the usual irony.
You did not want a widow-wife.


‘Rage’ was your word
—and ‘rage’ is mine—
for what it was like
being Kafka

in the night.
Looking for the one man
who could judge you,
you found yourself,

dear Franz. Your ‘wound’
opened up, and language
spilled out of you...
like judgment. Like blood.


Herman Kafka, 1854-1931

Your father, dear Franz.
His name is on your stone.
A man who
withheld everything
that was good in him.
You died
before he had time,
but not before
you wrote him a letter
in which you told him
how you felt.
That letter is famous
now—I have read it;
it is called
‘Letter to His Father’—
but you never
delivered it. He never
got it. What you left
behind for him
was a third person,
the ghost of a man
that comes, and comes
again, between
a father and his son.
Can you really blame him?

.   .   .

Juliet Kafka, 1856-1934

Your mother, his wife.
Who survived you both.
Kafka men.

How you loved to say
her name, dear Franz.
Julie, Julie.

As if your mouth
were giving birth.


Are you still mad at your friend,
Max Brod, for what he did not do?

He did not burn your books,
dear Franz. He burned you.

Older Men | Selections