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Unmatching Legs Ode by Sharon Olds

Updated: Oct 23, 2019

I went to a writing workshop this summer with Jessica Soffer at Berry Books and met the voices of Sharon Olds, Mary Olivier, and Jack Gilbert. Here is one of the poems Jessica curated for us to read each one line at a time out loud. It was so powerful.

I don’t know why I am fairly cheerful about my unmatching legs.  I am not cheerful about my foot soles, which were like two brains, reading the ground, and now have less than half their nerves, they are the numbskulls to whom I trust my balance, their surfaces crinkled tinfoil made of rubber. But when I lie on the floor, on my back, and look up, at my lower limbs, those tapered feelers, I like them, even though you cannot tell if the left is withered or the right fat—the right is swollen.  When I was a new matron, I thought that the blue-green line down my inner calf—the great saphenous vein— was a Nile beauty mark, and the way it rose, when I was carrying my first young, there was something cool in how it fit between the ledges of the gastrocnemius and soleus, like a snake between two strata of rock.  So when I see the leg’s mass, I am almost proud of it, that it could fit in it one and a half of its fellow. And the skinny leg, the original one, how can it be that I like the healed gouge on it, from the edge of the porch stair, when I fell upwards, or the one from the corner fang of the truck door, they hold the places I’ve been, they are like passport stamps from his kingdom.  I have always liked my legs, the double stem which lifts the big odd flower of me up and up.  It’s as if I fell in love with them, when they and I began to learn to walk together.  The two of them were best friends, who could press against each other and feel the love, at the top of the stalks, and they were twins—not identical, but mirror twins, loving the other was loving the self, they were ecstatics, they were the thyrsus and the stylus, the healthy narcissus. I’m sad they will rot.  I wish our bodies could leave us when they are done with us— leave our spirits here, and walk away.

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