Sunday, July 12, 2015

Black Milk

The following was written for Grace's prompt at Real Toads - inspired by the life and writings of Paul Celan, who survived the Holocaust, where his parents perished. He lived the rest of his life in a landscape of depression. Towards the end of his life, he grew mute with sorrow, and committed suicide in 1970, at age 50, by drowning in the Seine. He had tried an earlier suicide attempt by plunging a knife into his chest, missing his heart by one inch. I tried to get inside his head, based on my extensive reading about the Holocaust, and a few essays about the poet and his life.  His style was very dark and terse, so this will likely be a heavy read. I did not aim to write in his style but, rather, to write about how he must have felt, inside of all that painful history.

Wielding the knife, I miss my heart by an inch
and am forced to continue 
this grey endless horizonless trek
across Abandoned Hope.

I am drowning in the weight 
of all I have endured,
My heart can no longer carry
all I have lost.
I remember the stench, the filth, the lice,
the coughing, the hunger,
the bone marrow cold of the camps.

My parents' faces, as the guards signaled them 
to turn to the left, I, to the right. 
How can I bear still being alive?

How is it possible to smile, to chat,
to exchange pleasantries, 
top up my coffee with cream,
in a world where madmen 
torture the innocent,
the helpless, the hopeless,
then feed them to the ovens?

My pain renders me mute.
My history renders me mad.
I have lived a thousand darknesses*,
with one too few dawns.

*the phrase "thousand darknesses" from an essay about the poet by Luitgard N. Wundheiler, who described Celan's poetry as "creat(ing) a landscape of death"


  1. Simply amazing and oh, so sad.

    I could not write for this prompt...the words would not come.

  2. A grim history which you write of with notable authority, not an easy task. Thanks. K.

    1. Have long been fascinated with that era, kiddo – I once had a waking vision of row upon row of blanketed women in the Gulag in the dark predawn of a winter morning and knew in a flash I had been there. I was hearing the first bars of the Pachelbel Canon for the first time, which stopped me in my tracks as I was crossing a room.

  3. Excellent. The words so many gave their children: "Live and Survive." did not question how long to bear it. Some lived only long enough to tell the story. Some, thank God, still witness for themselves, us, and all time. His poetry speaks volumes from a silenced life..

  4. I love that you took the reading further as his life journey is pretty grim & challenging ~ I can't imagine how it was to have suffered there, and bear the death of one's parents ~ But I can imagine that thousand darknesses eclipsing everything else, even one's own life ~

    Thanks for linking up with Sunday's Challenge and wishing you a lovely summer week ~

  5. The grimness you are writing about, the thousand darkness.. Really you went deep with this. Somehow his darkness made it even more touching.

  6. Such a deep & profound write :)

  7. This makes me so angry and so sad - such a beautiful poet whose heart was shredded. It sickens me and saddens me.

  8. So powerful, Sherry...your second to last stanza caused me to nod and tear up...I think it would be just like that. Well done!

  9. "a thousand darknesses" takes me to Tennyson's 'In Memoriam' where he sang so many years ago "Ring out the thousand wars of old,/ Ring in the tousand years of peace."....I wonder is Peace so elusive....this poem is a heartfelt tribute to a great poet...

    1. Testosterone hasn’t done such a great job of running the earth. I think it’s time for women to take a turn. As mothers, we’re not so keen on war.

  10. Only one as empathetic as you are could recreate the suffering of concentration camps with such a high degree of authenticity. It takes an intrepid soul to venture to such places.

  11. "My heart can no longer carry
    all I have lost."
    I first read about the atrocities when I was in elementary school. The horror lives in me and repulses still. You've written this so well.

  12. Oh dear. That was poignant. I think I should have expected it after reading Bjorn's poem on a similar theme. Can't imagine the plight, though your poem makes it easy enough to do it, Sherry...

  13. Sherry, your imagery took us there-in bird's eye view-peeking into the black milk horrors. So, effective and haunting~ So, well done!

  14. think you captured the depth of his darkness. What a sad life.
    (I tried to read a few blogs while I was visiting grandkids, but am still catching up. They really steal my energy. But I love it. Had a great time.)

  15. whew. I'm thinking I may not want to read any more of his work.... ~


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