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Sleeping Prague


After Kafka

Torturers know this. Keep us in light

and we shrivel like dead flowers -

keep us from sleep and we drown

like fish in the air, we sway and flail

like sailors on land, like astro-

and cosmonauts walking in space

cut off from the mothership.

With methadone and benzedrine

the Wehrmacht tried to conquer

sleep and Russia…


At the end of the day in Prague

we stand in ragged lines in Andel

earthlings waiting for capsules

to shoot us up into space.

Tram and metro, taxi and bus

convey us aloft like sacrificial victims

to Inca pyramids on the hilltops -

the housing estates, favelas,

siedlungen, cites and sidliste, to sleep

stacked like slaves in a slave ship.


Our curious intimacy…we can but do not speak.

My shipmates, my neighbours

regard me with indifference,

resentment, or even benevolence.

At Barrandov the supermarket lights

lure me in, last watering hole before the journey.

The apartment block creaks like a ship in the wind

a straggler shouts out in the night

and we set off together, to sleep

without hope, to wake without pride.


In the morning, I hear my comrades return,

their dogs’ joyful welcome whining.

They loose their surplus liquids,

salute the day with coughs, or,

before alarms go off, engage

in regulation copulation. Stilettos

stab the parquet, and a voice is warming up

for tonight’s performance of The Magic Flute.

The tantric masseuse’s Indian bell

starts to jangle…


But where have we been, my hearties?

It’s just like Kafka said, it’s a harmless affectation

an innocent self-delusion, that we live in houses

sleep in beds with duvets, all of it no more

than doors chalked by children

onto a brick wall. When we close our eyes

we return to a place we have never left,

gathered together as we always were

in an open camp in the desert, millions

of us, billions, a horde, a people, exhausted


under a cold sky, we drop where we stood

onto cold earth, our legs grown meaningless.

And now our head is on our outstretched arm

we face the ground at last, and we are home.

O save us from airstrike and saber-tooth tiger

the secret policeman at the door -

at the edge of the camp, a signal fire

and beside it stands the watchman.

česky | English