My amazing Miłosz legs


legs3Can poetry matter? At a time when poetry is put on subway signs and the backs of buses, in a desperate attempt to show its relevancy to our times, I decided to vote with my feet. Or rather with my legs.

Okay, okay … I know it was a bit naff. But when I saw poet Molly Fisk‘s Facebook post about a woman in Israel who makes Emily Dickinson tights, I knew I had to have a pair. But given a choice among poems to choose … with myself as a sort of billboard… what could I do?

The international package arrived a few days ago from “Coline” in Netanya – elegantly wrapped and tied with a red ribbon. Black letters on dark gray tights, in a photo taken by my artiste daughter, Zoë Patrick. (Here’s the link for Coline’s magic tights – here.)

What did I choose? Who else but Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz! It’s poet Jane Hirshfields favorite poem, and soon became one of mine – she reads and discusses the poem in the video below. Not the usual thing to have on one’s legs, admittedly but it’s a great poem for the middle-to-the-end of life, and a great poem as we roll into a California winter. So here’s what’s written on my legs (translation by Robert Hass):


The pungent smells of a California winter,
Grayness and rosiness, an almost transparent full moon.
I add logs to the fire, I drink and I ponder.

“In Ilawa,” the news item said, “at age 70
Died Aleksander Rymkiewicz, poet.”

He was the youngest in our group. I patronized him slightly,
Just as I patronized others for their inferior minds
Though they had many virtues I couldn’t touch.

And so I am here, approaching the end
Of the century and of my life. Proud of my strength
Yet embarrassed by the clearness of the view.

Avant-gardes mixed with blood.
The ashes of inconceivable arts.
An omnium-gatherum of chaos.

I passed judgment on that. Though marked myself.
This hasn’t been the age for the righteous and the decent.
I know what it means to beget monsters
And to recognize in them myself. …


Read the rest here. Or listen to Jane below:

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5 Responses to “My amazing Miłosz legs”

  1. John Adams Says:

    Miłosz writing on Haven … what a beautifully fitting turnabout!

  2. Marnie Heyn Says:

    I inscribed Sappho on the outside of my calves in red ink, back in 1970. Who would I choose today?

  3. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Merci, John.

  4. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Ach. Not many words in a Sappho fragment.

  5. George Says:

    Once in a Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles office, I saw a woman in a tee shirt with the first several lines of the Iliad on it. I asked where she had purchased it, and she told me. But that was around thirty years ago, and I’ve forgotten her answer.

    I try with more or less success to limit my staring at legs; but I’m not sure how I’d do in the presence of Milosz stockings.