Treating Paul Celan

Psychiatric TimesPsychiatric Times Vol 23 No 7
Volume 23
Issue 7

Poetry from the June 2000 issue of Psychiatric Times.

“They’ve healed me into pieces.”
-Paul Celan

While considering Celan’s suicide
I think back to Virginia Woolf
herself and the psychiatrists who
her soul was too sensitive to live
in an age filled with the madness of
though today we would call her
and say it was the weight of
that made her fill her woolen coat
with rocks.
Paul Celan never made it to
never starred in a Merchant Ivory
but I keep rereading his “Death
Fugue” poem
and wonder if he ever learned to savor
Parisian coffee and croissants after
the war, his father dead from
his mother with a Nazi bullet
through her neck.
I daydream I’m treating him at the
my office window shaded by a
plane tree,
Celan seated across from me
nightmares even an SSRI can’t cure.
I imagine my diagnosis, the way I
would listen,
my metaphors. But after we’ve met
for the time it takes to smoke eight
packs of cigarettes, after all the
medication trials,
the damaged sighs and side effects,
I wonder,
Would Celan still drown himself in
the River Seine?

Dr Berlin is associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. He recently established the Gerald F. Berlin Creative Writing Award at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, one of only a few medical student creative writing prizes in the United States.

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