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J. J. Steinfeld

Fiction writer, poet, and playwright J. J. Steinfeld lives on Prince Edward Island, where he is patiently waiting for Godot’s arrival and a phone call from Kafka. While waiting, he has published nineteen books. From 1981, when Steinfeld published his first short story, to 1986, when his first one-act play was produced, and 2001, when he published his first poem, to the publication of his 2018 Ekstasis Editions poetry collection, more than 400 of his short stories and nearly 900 poems have appeared in anthologies and periodicals, at least one piece in every Canadian province and internationally in eighteen countries, and over fifty of his one-act plays and a handful of full-length plays have been performed in Canada and the United States.

A Visit to the Kafka Café

Hungry for meaning and sense
for nourishing words
maybe a few flavourful stories
or succulent poems never tasted before
you walk into a strange little café
on the uncertain side of town
menus strewn everywhere
the cooks literal and dull
the servers silent lost souls
amazingly, the service is good
the portions abundant

but you eat your words
too many, too quickly
regurgitate them in word-angry
retaliation by your being
the cooks and servers
laughing at your ill manner
of digestion and disgorgement.

There they are, your words
in a scornful new order
unrecognizable, unappetizing
an emetic metaphor of sorts
at one time a meal of meaning and sense
but your appetite was too strong
your punishment exacting as hunger.

This Kafkaesque Night

for Gregor Samsa

How will I get through
this Kafkaesque night
too dark to trust?

I have a strategy
nothing fancy or foolproof
merely something softer than cunning
and smoother than dismay:
fingers upon the past
ear to the present
nose to the future
if not to the grindstone
beware of sadness
with its own vocabulary
look out for swindlers
without a hint of proportion
keep both eyes open
for a level-headed redeemer.

There, the darkness has passed
I have all my fingers and toes
and a handful of dreams
for better nights.

The Kafka Lovers

The man with a body
like Gregor Samsa’s
and the woman
with a lost appetite
like the Hunger Artist’s
both inventors of loneliness
both as isolated as sad planets
both caught by life’s unfairness
met during a costume party
on the occasion of the release
from solitary confinement
of a man with the exact
neuroses and temperament
of Joseph K. just before
his inexplicable arrest.
The man with a body
like Gregor Samsa’s
after a glass of wine
admits his desire
for the woman
with a lost appetite
like the Hunger Artist’s
her simplicity and thinness
and unrepentant mysticism.
They exchange phone numbers
almost comprehend each other’s
identity and perplexity
the fearful small talk
and frightened thinking
turning to the tactile
she stroking his shell
he touching her empty belly
like foreplay and enthrallment
during the beginning of madness
in an unwritten fairy tale of love
by a ghost with a resemblance
to Kafka’s romantic double.


Deep-breathing exercises aren’t working for you today
contradictions of being don’t seem all that contradictory
like the word forever from the lips of a five-year-old
or the word eternal from the mouth of a ninety-year-old.
Baffled, you search for the likeness of someone
with powers to save or salvage, to explain or enlighten,
considering first a likeness of a unlikely character
in a destroyed story by Kafka
destroyed by flames of errant magic
a story revived in your mind might do the trick—
why in the everlasting not, a reclaimed character
in a destroyed by flames Kafka story a possibility.
Or the likeness of a conjurer who faltered
a hundred times before a hundred audiences
and carved his secrets into a hundred trees
that were felled in malice on a single night.
You refuse to stop there, Kafka character
or faltering conjurer, and cite likeness after likeness
until you are exhausted by the resemblances
paradoxical, ambiguous, and incongruous yet explicit
you become an art gallery of likenesses
unvisited, unadorned but every room filled
with likenesses of salvation and enlightenment
like a galaxy of scheming doppelgängers
learning to play practical jokes
on your synapses and psyche.


From A Visit to the Kafka Café
by J. J. Steinfeld
© 2018 J. J. Steinfeld
Published by Ekstasis Editions