Don’t Read Kafka

Love is better

John Levin
Tales of Improbable Magic
4 min readSep 1, 2023


Numazu Ki Kure, ukiyo-e woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige, ca. 1834, Public Domain

I heard that one time a mountain decided he’d rather be a cockroach.

His wife, knowing him completely well, remarked, “You’ve been reading Kafka again, and your German is so bad, you’ve misinterpreted everything.”

“No, I haven’t!” he screamed in his mountainous way, “I really do want to be a cockroach now.”

“But you might get squished!” she reminded him. “At least if you’re a mountain, you’ll have respect.”

“Why do I need respect?” he countered. “It hasn’t done a damn thing for me yet. All my glaciers are melting, and all the fancy climbers are just leaving their trash everywhere.”

“But a cockroach? Why not a cloud or a songbird or even…”

“A train! I want to be a train!”

“Well, I guess that’s better than a cockroach.” She was obviously giving up. She had got him to see a therapist during the pandemic, but she could see that he still had issues. “What kind of train?” she hesitatingly ventured.

“A big freight train… full of cockroaches!”

“You’re nuts.”

“It’s the altitude. It must be getting to me.”

So friends, remember to go easy on yourselves. Even mountains sometimes have doubts, even panic attacks! It’s really the same for all of us. We’re never satisfied with who we are or who our lover is. The job sucks. Things cost too much. And all the politicians are crazy.

“You’re right, John,” the mountain admitted. “My German is quite bad, and I was just getting bored. All I could see was the Moon whenever I looked up, and…”

“Yes, I know. You asked her if you could fly that high and join her, too.”

“She actually said I could if I wasn’t just so damn heavy and full of granite and snow.”

“Tough world, but you’ve got a wife, and she’s as high as you can be (on Earth,) so what’s wrong with that?” I let him know. When mountains cry in their snowpack, it just bugs me.

“You tell him, John!” his wife said in a cool wind voice so light and sexy deep that I wanted to take her from this idiot who just read too much Kafka and couldn’t see what was even in front of him.

“Well, John, if he wants to be a cockroach…”

“Or a train,”

“Or a train full of cockroaches even… then why don’t you join me? We can have fun together! And I guess I’m getting lonely with his unhappiness (and bad German, too.)” She looked at me then from her alpine valley redoubt and pierced me with an exhale so aspen rustling that I forgot I was only a tiny human and not a mountain myself.

I was just about to say yes when a real speed ass train blew into town (my town that is) and announced, “All aboard, if you wanna go to the Moon!”

“No cockroaches?” I figured I’d better check.

“They all got off at Little Rock. It’s OK,” the ex-mountain told me. “I’ve given up on Kafka and unhappiness, and I’m heading to the sky!”

OK, dear reader, have you ever had a choice as difficult as this one? I decided to ask Hiroshige (see the picture.) I figured if anyone understood the importance of the Moon, it would be him.

He looked up from his manga up in Ukiyo-e Heaven and just stared off into space, perhaps having a silent conversation with that very same Moon, or perhaps just imagining an army of vicious cockroaches on a celestial train…

“I’m glad they got off at Little Rock,” he colorfully careened then, all woodblock ink and manga foreseeing. “But I’d go with his wife. I looked at the Moon for years and never got laid once. But John, do you think you can handle it?”

“If she’ll accept me.”

And, you know, the next time you’re high on an alpine trail, just breathe for a moment,

And when you exhale, you’ll find me there, too, sitting in the branches,

just like a great horned owl,

hooting at the Moon.


© “John” Lesly Levin 2023

PS — My two favorite ukiyo-e artists are Hiroshige and Hokusai. You probably know Hokusai from The Great Wave. I’m not completely sure, but I believe the Hiroshige print at the top is of a group of actors walking home at night under the full moon, one of them with that mask strapped to his back.



John Levin
Tales of Improbable Magic

Scientist. Writer. Meditator. Blue Tantrika. Mystical Rabbi. Climate & Human Rights Activist. I’m a man of few words, except when I open my mouth.