I Am Not Franz Kafka

Writing prompt for March 12: “the seductive voices of the night”

(Yes, I am a bit behind on my writing prompts…)

That chunk of prompt, found in A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves, was taken from a letter written by Franz Kafka to his close friend Dr. Robert Klopstock, an American lung surgeon whom Kafka met when they were both being treated for tuberculosis. (Klopstock was later at Kafka’s bedside when the writer died in 1924. Klopstock lived another 48 years, dying in New York in June of 1972. I guess the lesson there is: if you are going to get TB, better to be a famous lung surgeon than a writer riddled with existential angst.) But I digress…

Kafka was comparing the seductive voices of the night to those of Ulysses’ sirens who “sounded so beautiful.” I do not find the voices of the night seductive or beautiful. I find them at best annoying, at worst scary. There are sirens in our nighttime, too, but their wail comes from the local police station only two streets over. Other not at all beautiful sounds are:

  • The irregular sloshing of the dishwasher that sounds as though its heart might stop beating any minute.
  • The whiz and BLAM! of cherry bombs being set off by our neighbor’s son in their driveway, which just happens to be right under our bedroom window.
  • The hollow banging of the pipes trying to break out from behind the walls of our old house.
  • The slamming of a car door at 3 a.m. – whose and why at that hour?
  • And any sound from a thunderstorm: the rushing wind threatening to topple our giant pin oaks and send them crashing through the roof; the torturous drip, drip, drip of rain on the outside window frame that some former owner decided to cover with tin to protect the wood; the snap and crackle of electric wires as the arcing pops with UFO blue light.

No, not one of these sounds is seductive, in either the modern meaning or the Latin (seducere, to lead away). They do not tempt me or lead me away into the night.

It is the voices of the morning that I find seductive. The birds – song sparrow, indigo bunting, Carolina wren – their tiny throats throbbing with tunes as the dark begins to fade. The booming of hard rock music from a car window as our paper deliverer tosses the New York Times thwack! onto the driveway. The welcoming whistle of the first SEPTA train of the day down at the local station. Those voices call, “The day has started! Time to go! Kick off those covers!”

And I do.

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