The Ponds: Franz Kafka, June 1, 1924

by Linda Bierds

Always the baths. Although my father in water
was a snared goose-his flappings, then the granular rush
of the foam. No swimmers, we, not really. Still,
from the rough-hewn planks of the changing-hut,
we walked in our nakedness.
I remember his girth. Then that sack of quick kindling

that was my chest. And later, long after,
how pond water, warmed from its rest
near the inner ear, seeped out to my pillow slip....

Just a child, my mother had grasped
her grandfather's toes, asked from his fresh corpse
a gram of forgiveness. Ritual, I think, superstition.
All the toe hairs were scoured to black-tipped nubs
the chafe, chafe of his thick boots
nubs and nails and a flesh with the chill

of a brookhouse wall. She told me he bathed
in the languorous river, day after day-in winter
breaking the ice with a net of bricks.
And although he brought the water to him, I am certain,
handful by handful, still
he strokes in my mind just under the ice rim,

piece and then piece, as a boiled shirt
strokes up through the vat: now an arm, now the neck,
now a blister of back.

By open car, I have traveled to the sick-beds
of Vienna, then onward to Kierling.
My larynx, they say, has decayed to the flesh
of an autumn berry. I remember
wind through the car seats, how light was slashed
to some rhythmic flick
by the quick interruption of birch trees.
And Dora, her coat held open between me
and the elements, flapping its musk
of camphor and soot.

There is sunlight today. It casts into great herons
the tapering shadows of nurses...

My throat is treated with injections of alcohol
and my cousin's spleen with injections of milk!
So death, in the body, forms a flaccid pond. Or the body

in death. It deepens, I think, hour by hour, stretches down
where lightless ligatures tangle and sway.
Death. In the shade of some changing-hut.
Infinite, black-cast, glacial reach.
And I am buoyed by it.

Last updated November 30, 2022