Mary Rakow
Celan comes,

telling me what I already know

White it is white, a water-

stream finds its way through, a heartstream,

... you know its name,...


I wanted to jump from the bridge into the traffic below. But then I thought of my students, newspaper photographs, shame.

The security guard watched me too carefully.

I buttoned my coat.

Celan did not write about the slam of water against his face. (This came as an insight of not inconsiderable significance.) I thought, What if he reconsidered on the way down? I took my hand from the rail.



How is it that a poet's words reach into the life of an other?

black milk


His field of compounds taller than the grasses.


A balustrade explodes, plaster and stone fly into the courtyard below. Celan covers his ears. He comes upon the balustrade, picking shards up from the ground, putting them into his leather apron. He will not attempt to recreate the house or the balustrade. As if nothing happened.

He puts the pieces together, not erasing the veins, the separations, the seams that do not align. This is how he covers his head. This is the prayer shawl.

For your sake happened what happened

He tells himself, I will not describe the bombing of the balustrade. I will be the balustrade, bombed.


A child locked in a closet for three days sits at a neighbor's kitchen table. He sees the word


and laughs because he understands it,



Scholars gather yearly in Paris to unravel the "cryptic" poems of Paul Celan. The boy at the table knows it is a simple matter:

Celan forced the German language to remember, he would tell them. He broke its bones.


I sit in a therapist's office bounded by my touch on all four walls. Remembering and dismembering

scale and fist

the aggressive act.

You were my death;
you I could hold
while everything slipped from me.


Plagiarism charge that would not go away. Of course Celan jumped into the Seine. His blistered arms. Running into the wood. Carrying the child: Speech.

Of course he jumped. To be told, The child is not safe in your hands.


the sluice I had to go,
to salvage the word back into
and out of and across the saltflood:


After a reading in Tel Aviv, people who knew Celan's parents came up to him. A woman gave him the kind of cake his mother used to bake. At this, according to his biographer, Celan wept.

There stood
a splinter of fig on your lip,
There stood,

Jerusalem around us


Jesus grilled fish for his disciples.

in bright blood:
the brightword

But they did not recognize him.

...that light

How do words of one reach into the life of an other?



Translation. Transfusion. Child carried across the saltflood.


"Todesfuge," in some German schools, was taught this way: Shulamith and Margareta "once again extend their hands to each other...in reconciliation."

Of course he jumped.

You, clamped in your depth
in the time-crevasses,
a breathcrystal,


If it hadn't been for Nelly Sachs, then what?
deer running toward living water

Touch! Touch!
...name-awake, hand-awake

In their tunnel of letters,


another gate.


She checked herself into a psychiatric hospital. Her head filled with images from Heironimous Bosch. Having heard the news, she died the day Celan was buried. Her head, laurel weathed.

The floating word

is dusk's.

Crowned, their friendship, a sweet bay.


Sunlight reflected off the lemon bush. On the table near me, my mother's hand, leafing open the Bible, its pages thin as moth's wing.

Corridor of memory.

Celan with flour on his hands. Rolling out the dough.

What waited for me? Unannullable.

That one thing.



You said
no one
witnesses for the

This is not true.
Shulamith Margareta

You combed my hair clean.


A fisherman found Celan's body seven miles downstream.

Folded like a cloth.

as if I

were this,

your whiteness


Rachel's tears wet my palm.
In your apron soaked with the Seine, You baked desert-bread.
In language


you said, Barbara

climb out of yourself

for ever

Mary Rakow's novel in verse, Memory Room (from which this piece is excerpted), will be published by Counterpoint Press in March 2002. Mary has a Masters Degree in Theological Studies from Harvard University Divinity School and a Ph.D. in Theology from Boston College. She is a native Californian and currently lives with her husband and children in Los Angeles.


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