Sep 24

A Kafka Manual

by charles kell


Read the instructions as if they are the landscape.

Stand straight at the open window
with black boots hugging your feet.

Make a crescent from your typeset & pretend
it’s a tender line.

Any & all displays of affection should remain private.


Leave the door half-latched so after
careful scratching you can enter.

Beware of the skinny one in hood, holding a whip,
flecks of sweat on its coils, brandishing
it as if to say you’ve lost your place.

Suppose you have this sheaf of papers & you must

someone to sign them.

Bring the stale lawyer cake for his tea.
Slither down the court aisle contorting

your body in a funambulistic stagger.

Pay a fee. Watch the kite reel, oscillate.


If on account of your own self-knowledge
you find yourself in the exact same spot,
take solace, you are no worse off than you were
at the beginning, for the moment.

Get involved with the audience.

Set your extra handkerchief on the sill’s eaves.


Your face is blameless. Your face is guilty.


Write your dead father an incident report.
Write your sister a picaresque novella.
Write your mother a long note on a series of index

Write your friend a list of margins on chewed
music sheets.


Notice the part you’ve been playing is a cacophony
for different voices.

Say today is my sixth book of sleep.
Then gather all your belongings, pile
them in a corner of the small room.

Choose two, fold your papers & nest them in the brief-

Leave with yesterday’s suit. Leave before they get back

Walk brisk to the outskirts of the city. Keep at it.

The umbrella turns inside out. Your hat feels
glued to your scalp.

Your pants swish in the wind & your boots

Keep moving. I’m a station. I’m alone with a lyre.



Charles Kell is the author of Cage of Lit Glass, chosen by Kimiko Hahn for the 2018 Autumn House Press Poetry Prize. His poetry and fiction have appeared in the New Orleans Review, The Saint Ann’s Review, Kestrel, Columbia Journal, The Pinch, and elsewhere. He is Assistant Professor of English at the Community College of Rhode Island and associate editor of The Ocean State Review. He recently completed a PhD at the University of Rhode Island with a dissertation on experimental writing, criminality and transgression in the work of James Baldwin, Rosmarie Waldrop, Joanna Scott and C.D. Wright.


Art by Michelle Johnsen, art editor

Michelle Johnsen is a nature and portrait photographer in Lancaster, PA, as well as an amateur herbalist and naturalist. Her work has been featured by It’s Modern Art, Susquehanna Style magazine, Permaculture Activist magazine,, EarthFirst! Journal, Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, and used as album art for Grandma Shake!, Anna & Elizabeth, and Liz Fulmer Music. Michelle’s photos have also been stolen by, The Daily Mail, and Lancaster Newspapers. You can contact her at mjphoto717 [at]