from Sally Doyle's Kafka Psalms

Kafka's Butterfly
made out of paper and transparency  by Sally Doyle


(On writing Kafka Psalms)

Recently in my struggle with illness and despair, I happened to take a book of Kafka’s journals off my bookshelf and I immediately became absorbed in this work in a different way than I had been in the past—I felt as though I was reading my own journals. My journal entries and Kafka’s journals and letters connected through the themes of abuse, illness, self-torture, writing, and a longing for love and an other in life.

Intuitively I began linking our voices together on the page. This manuscript is the result. Kafka’s words are italicized, and mine are not. I feel awe and wonder because the reading and writing happen together at the same time. This book is so much about reading. It is a testimony of the most intimate exchange a writer and reader share. Kafka’s words become my words, part of my text. His words tangle with mine, blossom in my poems, and cut into my poems. Sharing the page with Kafka has given me strength to write. Kafka has helped to carry the weight of my burdens.

This is the power of literature that I know he understood too. Writers “come to us” or we to them, at the times in our lives—when we need them. Kafka has come to me now, and somehow I think in our coming together we’ve made something different from our isolated, individual despair. This book is my testimony that finding the “other” through suffering is part of the “meaning” of suffering.

Scarlet Butterfly, Screen printed on xray by Sally Doyle

Gradually my excitement underwent a transformation,
my thoughts turning to writing,
I felt myself up to it,
wanted nothing save the opportunity to write,
considered what nights in the future I could set aside for it,
with pains in my heart crossed the stone bridge at a run,
felt what I had already experienced so often,
the unhappy sense of a consuming fire inside me
that was not allowed to break out, made up a sentence—
‘Little friend, pour forth’—
incessantly sang it to a special tune,
and squeezed and released a handkerchief
in my pocket in accompaniment as if it were a bagpipe.
                        This inexhaustible running girl--
   physical sensations of hammering and sparks
linking brim to overflow,
ache of words refusing to cross
immensity of either way.


This psalm begins with
the more delicate, more distracted, 
more hopeless noise
led by the voices of the 2 canaries.
I have lost in the mist of life
the hills I walked upon before waking.
[I have lost] the gleam of yellowish light 
around my body.


This is why I cringe before you
with sad requests…
 The debris from an ordinary day is enormous.

I want to give instructions to my sad body,
the thin breath of a page

                          From the dash on---

dirty little barefoot girl
running along in her shift 


Under these diary pages
                  galoshes slosh.
A chill pursues me.
A woman pulling me to school,
a hand pushing me through
the doorframe.
The round table of nervous people
Begins to tremble.
I have probably caused a disaster.
A car door slams.
Light comes too soon.


The hole refuses the pin.
But it makes no difference—
                             this refusal—
pin pushes through anyway—
precise   careless 
 the suffering it causes.


Why have you enclosed butterflies 
with brackets and parenthesis?

[Complete standstill ] (Unending torments)


Butterflies born  
in the dark poem,
if we could see,
we’d read patterns 


then gone



It has become very necessary 
to keep a diary again.
The uncertainty of my thoughts,
the ruin of the office,
 the physical impossibility of writing
 and the inner need for it--
Trying to push myself 
through the pen 
to the tip 
of existence.


Sally Doyle and James Joyce

Sally Doyle is a poet living in San Francisco. She received her MA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. She teaches poetry through California Poets in the Schools. Her chapbook, Under the Neath was published by Leaf Books. She has also published her poetry in Temblor, Central Park, Avec, How(ever), O Anthology, five fingers review, Lipstick 11 and recently in Rattle. She is currently working on her manuscript, Kafka Psalms.

1 comment:

Susannah said...

How I love these words, images... "and squeezed and released a handkerchief
in my pocket in accompaniment as if it were a bagpipe..."

Each poem a song singing in me as I read it.