First Kiss

by Karen Greenbaum-Maya

Such a close call. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, though my German was good enough to know Kafka for dead-pan drop-dead hilarious. I aspired too high to breathe, reached so high that I could grasp nothing at all. Certainly I could not grasp Nothing. I needed Nothing, to redeem my clumsy existence. And Kafka and I were both K. I could feel his bruises, acquired easy as breathing made brown on magnolia petals. And for my senior thesis, I proposed to the department chair:  I’ll write my thesis on Kafka’s parables, the really hermeneutic stories. 

That night I dreamt a narrow tenement, a hundred stories high, floors and stairs so rickety you could see the framework, the building’s bones. Two gray cats were up on the topmost floor. They knew they needed to get down to earth. Flimsy ladders could barely take even the slight weight of cats picking their way. The cats kept going by acting as though nothing was wrong, just like Kafka’s protagonists. They stepped and shifted and landed. I woke just as they reached the gray concrete sidewalk. I knew what the dream was about. I returned to the library, dropped off the modest volume of Kafka stories and the several highly intellectual volumes of Kafka explications, all dense with exegesis.

I remembered a moment from my sophomore year. A classmate’s boyfriend was already a published poet, even in college. His thesis on Kafka had taken the college’s annual prize for original work. What was he like that year? I asked her. Judiciously, clinically, she considered, she answered:  He got pretty weird by the end. I thought of the cats navigating their way out of danger by ignoring the peril of their path. You’ve been warned, I thought. Kafka? Maybe later. Or never. Not like that, anyhow.



About the Author: Karen Greenbaum-Maya, retired clinical psychologist, German major, two-time Pushcart nominee and photographer, no longer lives for Art but still thinks about it a lot. Her work appears in venues including  B O D Y, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Comstock Poetry Review, Otoliths, Naugatuck Poetry Review, and, Measure.Kattywompus Press publishes her two chapbooks, Burrowing Song and Eggs Satori. Kelsay Books publishes The Book of Knots and their Untying. She co-hosts Fourth Sundays, a poetry series in Claremont, California.