Rekindling embers to fight taboos




There are images and metaphors that have inhabited my mind long after I finish reading a book. Such is the case with Sandor Marai’s “Embers.” Throughout his beautifully written, lyrical novel, he conjures the image of memories that have not been talked about for many years and thus have gathered dust and overgrown the living space like a fungus. Here is a sample: 

“It [the castle] also enclosed memories as if they were the dead, memories that lurked in damp corners the way mushrooms, bats, rats, and beetles lurk in the mildewed cellars of old homes. Door-latches gave off the traces of a once-trembling hand, the excitement of a moment long gone, so that even now another hand hesitated to press down on them. Every house in which passion has loosed itself on people in all its fury exudes such intangible presences.” (I have the IPAD version so no page number available)

I remember the rapture with which I read this passage. I did not know what to do with it at the time, how to fit it into my reality. So I stashed it away into the deep recesses of my mind. I was reading it ten years ago, on September 18, 2003, when hurricane Isabel was raging outside our apartment complex and graciously sparing any destruction and distraction — the lights only flickered a couple of times, but we never lost electricity or water supply. 

The passage was nagging me as time went by. So in 2009, when asked to teach a course about breaking taboos, I wrote this poem, which is very much inspired by the imagery of the quoted text. I was going to ask my students what the word “taboos” meant to them, and I reflected on what came to my mind when I thought of taboos. 


Dust settles in the darkness of crevasses,

Noiselessly, it saws itself like weeds,

It blooms into mould that grows into walls


It whispers, it nudges, it tags at the mind

It breaks a heart, ravages the soul,

As it grows into a garden of taboos never told


Where words that should have been spoken

Fade in rotten piles, like leaves in the fall,

— leaves that are years and centuries old.


Leaves with a musty smell of taboos

That are man-made and thus avoidable

— Had the dust been swept before it bloomed


And now, 10 years on, the poem and the passage have come to mind as I’ve recently created a Facebook page, Breaking The Silence, which explores taboos/stereotypes and ways of breaking them. Just as in the novel, my memories of reading the book and then teaching the taboos course lurked in my mind. Thankfully though, I’ve done something to honor and repurpose them for my current/future FB project, rather than let them grow, and overgrow my mind and heart. 🙂



Karo Caran, the Rainbow Poetess, is a poet and a non/fiction writer. Her novel, "Breaking the silence: A story in paintings" focuses on the censorship of art and gay relationships in the postwar, communist Poland. Her poetry-based memoir, "Life in a Footnotes" will be published this summer.
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

14 thoughts on “Rekindling embers to fight taboos

  1. I think that it is pretty wonderful that you chose to honor and repurpose rather than let them grow within you and cloud your experience. That must feel both freeing and empowering. I am going to go check out your FB page now 🙂

    • Hi Kate, indeed, it is very empowering. I now know that some ideas just need their time to grow, and I no longer worry if I can’t find the use for them right away. Thanks for liking my taboos page on FB!

  2. What a spectacular passage…I’m going to save it myself because memory tucked away (and perhaps collecting all sorts of mold) has been quite a theme of my life. I save things, I save thoughts, I save memories, I save whatever I can hold onto. It is a burden that has held me back but also very much of part of me. Thank you for bringing this to us, as well for your beautiful poem.

  3. Oh, breaking taboos is / can be hard if we’ve grown up with them installed within from a young age. But what you’ve written and expressed is powerful Karo, best of luck on your new FB page (I’ve liked it 🙂 )

    • Thank you, Louise, for liking the page. Breaking taboos, like anything else really, can start in small steps, like reading the blog, so you don’t have to overthrow the world around you 🙂

  4. Wow – I think I have to read that book! I am interested in exploring and breaking taboos also because I have a very strong Pluto/8th house in astrological terms. I have never been afraid to unearth that which is suppressed and hidden. Nice poem!

    • Keep it up, Louise– not everyone has your attitude towards breaking/getting rid of taboos. And I do think that they’re often holding us back, so really there’s no point in holding on to them.

Leave a Reply to Karo Cancel reply