Of Milk and Honey, Hair and Blood


The world’s oldest documented love poem: Sumer tablet, 8th century BC. Istanbul Archaeological Museum. [1]

by Lital Khaikin

Notes departing from Deniz Eroglu’s exhibition “Milk & Honey” @ OVERGADEN


I would not call him a lover
The man who craves God’s Paradise.
Paradise is only a trap
To catch the souls of foolish men.

—Yunus Emre

When in love, the soul burns,
Melts like wax as it churns.

—Nâzim Hikmet

Before boundaries, before form, before the sea emerges from its origin, Abzu, the first sea, before the rivers learned to flow, “Abzu, pure place which fulfils its purpose” [2]. Life was coaxed out of the rivers of Tigris (Idigna/Idigina) and Euphrates (Buranuna), with the seven-pointed flower-star, Enki, waking from subterranean slumber, “in the deep engur, in the subterranean water, the place the inside of which no other god knows” [3]. Fresh waters erupting into the dry canals, water rising to reddening shores, Anatolia spilling over her banks, waters filling the earth bed. Impregnated with waters and reeds, gardens of fruit, the tree plant, the honey plant.

A river is implicated in endlessness. Eternal return takes it from source to sea, to change its nature in many ways, until it is found again somewhere very distant, but certainly itself again. Its ceaseless repetitions conceal its true quantity. And so, in this way, its abundance is a flood, water that overflows itself, too much of being. The slowest time of its depletion is the perfect illusion.

Here is a replica of a river, that origin of abundance. Suggestive, evasive, the river heard before seen, a whisper of what will come, unnerving. The sound of milk lapping up against metal. This river is rapid with milk. Turbulence is made visible in a liquid that is normally still. Milk is not made for running. A sound that is softer, denser than water, a quiet thing that is made loud.

This river flows as though milk is uncountable. As though what the body may give is immeasurable. Domesticated, quickened, rivers of milk turn red from bursting udders, river from the udder of a cow. Milk is childhood, is motherhood, is a moontime, and then it is gone. Milk is anticipation. Is a deeper knowledge of what is to come. Is knowing what the body needs before the body knows.


Like the hours of noon I walked all over your breasts

—Melih Cevdet Andaz, Horses before Troy
trans. Talat Sait Halman and Brian Swann

My hands are blood-drenched with milk of your wind-breasts.
Your face is the mirror of houses. Water, higher than
Road, whatever leads to you.

—Oktay Rifat, Perҫemli Sokak.
trans. Talat Sait Halman and Taner Baybars




Slower still is the drip of honey. Solidifying into crystals, replicating the patterns of geology. Clusters and grids, mounds and perfect droplets. Honey is a balm, now bal. The old word làl, a syrup on the tongue, a slower way of letting sound spill, with words that land soft as the down of a honeybee.

As in the offering of “Honey, Nabidh, Water and Milk” [4], nourishment to the messenger of the first word, the clean word, the light word. Luxurious, slow liquids, milk and honey are as blood, of the body, the most intimate secretions, drawn out of life and giving life.

Babylon saw honey used in exorcism rituals, unbinding the wicked spells of witches and sorcerers, wishing honey upon them, “may her mouth be wax, her mouth honey, may the word causing my misfortune that she has spoken, dissolve like wax. May the charm that she has wound up, melt like honey” [5]. Honey brings the seat of the self back within. The healing qualities of honey – soothes wounds, grows tender skin over open sores, makes clean. Honey of southern Turkey is fragrant with lavender, pine and wild flowers, all the untame things that put to shame the well-bred flower. Darkest red honey rushing to your lip, your bottom lip as I pull with my teeth, your lip the hue of hands parting the body’s darkest interiour flushed hot garnet, the innards of the earth turned outwards, blushing as the juice of šumuttu pierced.

Liqueurs capsizing into droplets, slow as amber. Globes of gold, sweetest cum drunk from the sex of flowers and herbs. Incest sister of hul gil, liquid opium, white sap roused from stem to mouth, clouding denser than wine. Sweet lingering sedatives, secretions distilled into fertile stream, dripping and coiling from combs, from lips. Sweet lingering temptation, slow and lingering, and sticky. Sap, spit, fertile flower sperm twisting around an insect tongue. Spilled on clean white, all that is left is to suck, suck.


Loneliness with its defective marble
is a sacred prey offered to God,
then it turns into the luster of ruby.

a mad lover until daybreak
inventive, terrible and ashamed.

—Ahmet Oktay, All Men Die
trans. Talat Sait Halman

Scattering is none other than coming together.
The sexual fluid that breaks out of its shell
The sun’s taut then loosened,
Bow first images of the starry oysters twinkling.

—Melih Cevdet Anday, On the Nomad Sea
trans. Talat Sait Halman


A fly caught in amber, a blood-filled provocation bit under the tongue. Consecrated host of the black mass, the ant farming the aphid, the aphid spurting honeydew for the ant [6]. Bodies locked in the delicious toxicity, reciprocating an erotic exchange that keeps one in the grip of another.


… he turned aside to look at the lion’s carcass, and in it he saw a swarm of bees and some honey. He scooped out the honey with his hands and ate as he went along. When he rejoined his parents, he gave them some, and they too ate it. But he did not tell them that he had taken the honey from the lion’s carcass.

—Judges 14:8


The ghazal, developing under Sufism, is a poetic form that expresses the exquisite nature of love, ensnared at once in its origins of minstrel song that lusts for a total possession of the body, and the Sufi propositions of mystical love, between the oral tradition directed at the intimate, particular one, and the rituals of performance in collective ecstasy. The love songs of Sumeria, the Sufi ghazal of Persia, and the modern canon of Turkish poetry is a continuous, drifting entanglement of the language of love between bodies, with the fertility of the earth, so that the rituals of eroticism are inseparable from one another, so that body cannot be taken from body, so that this land cannot be known without knowing its elements, without finding in its elements the reflections of desire.

The pursuit of the beloved is the pursuit of seasons. Have we arrived? It is only seen as it is occurring, but until it has fully unfolded, fully convinced of its heat or frigidity, of its storms or fertile wetness, we cannot know. We cannot hold the moment the leaf has unfolded, only see the bud, and the suggestion as it shows itself coyly, still too transparent, too bright to say it has fully arrived. A conduit for what cannot be contained within the human – an experience of beauty that surpasses the single self, and extends into the multitude, where love becomes mystical in the assemblage of the beloved’s self in the elements, the birds, the land. The body, as the earth, gives its harvest, its desires are consummated – liligi plant – its plenitude so overcoming itself.


Hair emerges from under the skin. Thin stalks of keratin, pushing out of pores. Something between skin and bone, not one or the other. Hair is grass, meadows, fields, is callous lichen, dead sprigs of hollow vegetation. Hair is the making exterior of the body’s innards, emerging from beneath the fleshy shell. Hair reaches out of the body – is the body extending out of itself, despite itself. Your hand is violent and tender in my hair.

In the Persian ghazal, the body is multiplicitous, as in the motif of the beard:

Another unmistakable indication is the mention of a beard, in particular of the first signs of its growth on the cheeks of an adolescent. This became a favourite motif in the ghazals as it could be used as a starting point of the expression of the blended feelings of sadness and desire: the former, because it signaled the end of youth, and the latter, because it showed the same face at the apex of its pristine beauty, just as the moon is most perfect at the very moment when its decline sets in. [7]


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This river is a mane of wildness, a wild man’s hair. His departure from Eden is marked by the comb that tames it. Find him by the fire, warming and crackling slow in a tent, for a moment docile under the comb in his hand. The comb is a sign of the civilized human – the no-longer-animal who has looked into himself and does not desire himself as he is. When the other approaches, he bares his teeth, he lunges to bite, his face is torn into an empty and endless grin.

The embrace of an animal is still more distant an exodus. It is to recognize in the animal something to which there is no return. The embrace is a recognition, a consolation – of whom?

There is an immense sadness in the embrace of an animal. It is an apology that comes as the fall, recognizing the fall, is having fallen. To embrace is as if to say, we are separate, I am sorry, come close to me again. Here I am, just like you.


Over and over you put a knot on the ages
Time and again you are suspicion in the mirrors.

—Feyzi Halıcı, In the Mirrors.
trans. Talat Sait Halman

In the slaughterhouse of love they kill only
the best, none of the weak or the deformed.
Don’t run away from this dying.
Whoever’s not killed for love is dead meat.

—Rumi. The Book of Love.
trans. Coleman Barks.


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(“Dizzy from all the turning and turning  /  Life twirls around you like a sufi  /  I  fly around but feel so flat.” Deniz Eroglu.)


A slice of meat is spinning, “here, I am just like you.

In Sufi poetry, in the ghazal, the erotic may intend to express the experience of the divine, to “sublimate” the human emotion and the physical, the ecstatic wandering between the erotic and the sublime [8]. Writing on Sufism, William Chittick, in his study of Rumi’s writings, says, “the instrument of spiritual knowledge or gnosis is the heart, the centre of man’s being, gnosis is ‘existential’ rather than purely mental.” [9] The physical experience of text is essential, its truth is stealthy, its decadent rhythm slipping between its words, these words.


Come to the orchard in spring.
There is light and wine and sweethearts
in the pomegranate flowers.

If you do not come, these do not matter.
If you do come, these do not matter.”

—Rumi, The Book of Love
trans. Coleman Barks

If only you would do your sweet things to me
your thing, sweet as honey
if only you would put your hand on it

Put your hand on it for me
like a cap on a measuring cup
spread your hand over it for me
like a cap on an old measuring cup.”

trans. Kim Echlin


Like the sublimation of the profane, human love with the mystical, the physical transcendence of the body is not in the abandonment of the body, but through a movement through it. To push as far through the body as it would allow. The spinning, ecstatic dance of the Sufi, whirling dervishes in tireless rotation, lost to an ecstasy that takes them far from their bodies, but so perfectly through the poverty of this flesh. The hulûl, the mystical trance of becoming, incarnation, being entering itself.

We are, after all, reduced to this meat, and the taste of each other on our tongues. Our tongues that are circling, spinning, over and over again, do it fifty times over, “human voices would stand still” [10], the hypnosis of cyclicality, “over and over, did it fifty times” [11].

Cyclicality meanders through the verse, acquiring a thickened nature, seducing into the slower rhythms of honey. The sensuality of nature arouses the understanding of the divine – succumbing entirely to the profane, falling through the surrender, to find that desire has reached farther, beyond what the body is alone capable of, as if to forget our own murky waters. Only through your body can I forget mine. The most exquisite cruelty is to find one another when we are already separate.


As I proceeded
as I proceeded
as I proceeded


your allure is sweet
(sweet) as honey


your allure is sweet
sweet as honey

Over and over
tongue to tongue

over and over

my sap-sweet vine
my honey-sweet
my honey-mouthed

transl. Kim Echlin


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To find Turkey is easy, Turkey is the palm of your hand.
But you should tell its true place to no one;
Believe me, they will laugh at you.

—Metin Eloğlu, The Address of Turkey
trans. Murat Nemet-Nejat

I never forget the mediterranean
I plunged into the flames and wept voraciously
the joy of creating
and being created flared tremendously in the sky.

—Attilâ İlhan, From Suite in the Ottoman Mode
trans. Nermin Menemencioğlu

And I emigrate to you, moment by moment
I return, in an exodus, like a vibration,

Seeking the rocks of your lips,
Seeking your name which I wrote in rain.

—Melih Cevdet Anday, On the Nomad Sea
trans. Talat Sait Halman


To find land is to cast upon the sharpest shores, the softest flesh, the whirling dervish startled out of spinning to fall suddenly into stillness. To find land is as if to find some part that has been missing, that is necessary. Land can be found dripping from lips, enmired in the skin, coated by the skin of berries, in the curves of river water.

The sky turns white with milk, “the skies grow white with blood, a vein throbbing and out of breath” [12]. Purified milk now runs in metal rivers, cleanest, thinnest white. Metal carcasses pump fluid with mechanized rhythms. Rivers are contained by the human machines. By what devices does the paradise of milk still flow, sterile, in its artificial pipe?

Mountains of coins make puddles of honey, not rivers, not lakes. Honey spills from these coins, the spit of bees pouring onto concrete floor. To be cleaned. Sticky mess. Replenished. A flood of such abundance.

Anatolia is bathed in blood. It rises from the body, from which it is inseparable. Bodies that give their secretions endlessly, Anatolia that gives endless bodies. Where is the sugar of its balms that are needed now? Where are the salves for the messengers of light who are struck down by the reddening skies? What are we doing with the bodies that have given us these seas of overabundance, milk and honey, where is the blood that coursed with wine? Honey bittered, wasp-spun nest of neat artillery, selfish, empty, hollow labyrinths.


As blood awakens as the love of dead women awakens

On the trees and in the ships’ wake and in the restaurants
Looms the patch of blood upon blood of the cities
And the birth to dead women of fondled infants

Turgut Uyar, Blood Cities
trans. Talat Sait Halman

Blood flits from hand to hand.

Nedret Gürcan, Execution
trans. Talat Sait Halman

From the skeleton of God blood was trickling.

Ayhan Kırdar, A Camp in Hell
trans. Ahmet Ö. Evin


Where the blood slows its flow, we come back to honey. Upon visiting Babylon, Herodotus wrote of a ritual of preserving the dead in honey, making it known that the Assyrians would embalm a body with wax and coat the body with honey [13]. Honey ingesting the dampness of a carcass, soaking in deathstream and its darkening matter. Soothes the sore, makes clean the wound.  Re-enter the cocoon. Re-enter the womb. Death’s darling trophy, preserved and sugar-sweet in the kindest dignity.

But there is nothing left with which to embalm the dead. There is nothing left to thicken milk into ghee, to turn water into wine in the ways of our first delirium, where words were beyond us and we toyed with inhibition. The dead don’t need our overabundance, they only need to wait without knowing our patience. The dead don’t need our daring or our fear, don’t need our wildness, can’t taste the sap that we would give in a moment, over and over, as if it is uncountable, as if we couldn’t, haven’t, already depleted each other in the perfect illusion.

And so it is that the dead would return into the mouths of the smallest things, the tiny bee coating the body, concealing its broken parts with its gold. And after all, I wish I could have held you with less shame, softly, like the amber holds the bee, ancient and silent. But all the poetry that we have learned stands insurmountable between us, a minute wing fallen, a husk, a profane whisper that is heard before seen, that is suggestive and evasive, and then it is gone, as though we could never touch completely, you and I, my dear, my sometime almost lover.


Rivers dry up, love keeps quiet
and men are the harshest word
in barren squalid Anatolia.

—Ahmet Oktay, All Men Die
trans. Talat Sait Halman

And everything, suddenly everything,
Years cold wishes, hell without fires

This blood,
The most elementary lesson of birth and decay.

—Edip Cansever. From Tragedies.
trans. Murat Nemet-Nejat



Why did I come to this mountain? …  A poor one died, that is why I came.
—Deniz Eroglu, Mountain Elegy


*translations noted where possible*

[1] See also: Noah Kramer, Samuel, “The Biblical “Song of Songs” and the Sumerian Love Songs” Expedition Magazine 5.1 (September 1962): Expedition Magazine. Penn Museum, September 1962

[2] Enki’s Journey to Nibru: 33-43. The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. University of Oxford. 2006.

[3] Enki and Ninmaḫ: 12-23. The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. University of Oxford. 2006.

[4] Honey is honoured in the Quran as a gift from Allah to Mohammed, and to the people. “Anas reported: I served drink to Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) in this cup of mine: Honey, Nabidh, Water and Milk” (Bukhari & Muslim). Further, it is prohibited in the Quran to kill ants, bees, hoopoes (or the hudhud), and sparrow-hawks. An introduction to honey in the Quran may be found here:

Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God. ed. Fitzpatrick, Coeli and Hani Walker, Adam. ABC-CLIO. 2014.

[5] Ransome, Hilda M., The Sacred Bee in Ancient Times and Folklore. Dover Publications, Inc. 2004.

In turn, Hilda cites M. Jastrow, Religion of Babylon and Assyria, p. 284.

See also: Abusch, Tzvi and Schwemer, Daniel, Corpus of Mesopotamian Anti-Witchcraft Rituals, Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands. Volume 1 and 2 are published, with Volume 3 publishing in 2018. A beautiful collection of cuneiform texts is also available: Assyrian Medical Texts: from the originals in the British Museum. ed. Campbell Thompson, R. Oxford University Press, 1923. This book compiles the fragments of 660 medical tablets, compiled by archaeologist Reginal Campbell Thompson, before and following the First World War, but, as with Kim Echlin’s translation of Inanna, the absences, the voids in the reconstructed collages of tablets are all the more alluring.

[6] “Herding Aphids: how ‘farmer’ ants keep control of their food.News Release: 10 October 2007, Imperial College London, Royal Holloway University of London, and the University of Reading. See also: ‘Ant semiochemicals limit apterous aphid dispersal’ Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Wednesday 10 October 2007. Despite the ants’ farming of aphids as a renewable source of food, it is suggested that the aphids may, in their way, concede to this in favour of being devoured by larger predators; ants have been observed to defend their farms of aphids from birds and other predators.

[7] de Bruijin, J. T. P., Persian Sufi Poetry: An Introduction to the Mystical Use of Classical Poems. Curzon Sufi Series, 1997.

[8] de Bruijin, J. T. P., Persian Sufi Poetry: An Introduction to the Mystical Use of Classical Poems. Curzon Sufi Series, 1997. p. 67.

[9] Chittick, William, The Sufi Doctrine of Rumi. World Wisdom, Inc. 2005.

[10] Okay, Ahmet, All Men Die. transl. Talat Sait Halman. Contemporary Turkish Literature: Fiction and Poetry. ed. Talat Sait Halman. Associate University Presses, 1982.

[11] Echlin, Kim, Inanna: A New English Version. Penguin Canada, 2015.

[12] Okay, Ahmet, All Men Die. transl. Talat Sait Halman. Contemporary Turkish Literature: Fiction and Poetry. ed. Talat Sait Halman. Associate University Presses, 1982.

[13] Ransome, Hilda M. The Sacred Bee in Ancient Times and Folklore. Dover Publications, Inc. 2004.