Kaethe Kollwitz, Self-Portrait (1923)

Lee Sharkey

I secretly expected God would provide a ram for the sacrifice,that willingness to sacrifice would be enough.The bone truth: I am the woman who sent her son to war.I kneel. His blood drains through me. “Mother” spills to the ground.It is so. I am none.What’s needed: sure mind in a sure body, that I may go on workingas a cow grazes, the barn a dim idea in the distance,the life light the one light burning—go on with the work to its end.I bend to the head I chisel in wood, a woman watching,unmoving, no secret in her, just lines to rend, render me,mouth shut, everything wholly felt, determinedto bend the sacrifice to my will.

Author’s Note

I based this portrait of Kollwitz on her 1923 woodcut and on gleanings from her diary. At the time, she was still grieving the death in WWI of her son Peter and of the 16 million who died in that “war to end all wars.” Her haunting lithograph The Survivors, created in the same year, is one of many stark depictions of the cost of war that would lead to the banning of her work by the Nazis.

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Lee Sharkey is the author of Walking Backwards, “an Einsteinian walk along the space-time continuum of history” (Tupelo, 2016); Calendars of Fire; A Darker, Sweeter String; and nine other full-length poetry collections and chapbooks. Her recognitions include the Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize, the Abraham Sutzkever Centennial Award, and the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance’s Distinguished Achievement Award.

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Issue 42

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