Normalization

By Czeslaw Milosz 1911–2004 Czeslaw Milosz
This happened long ago, before the onset
of universal genetic correctness.

Boys and girls would stand naked before mirrors
studying the defects of their structure.

Nose too long, ears like burdocks,
sunken chin just like a mongoloid.

Breasts too small, too large, lopsided shoulders,
penis too short, hips too broad or else too narrow.

And just an inch or two taller!

Such was the house they inhabited for life.

Hiding, feigning, concealing defects.

But somehow they still had to find a partner.

Following incomprehensible tastes—airy creatures
paired with potbellies, skin and bones enamored of salt pork.

They had a saying then: “Even monsters
have their mates.” So perhaps they learned to tolerate their partners’
flaws, trusting that theirs would be forgiven in turn.

Now every genetic error meets with such
disgust that crowds might spit on them and stone them.

As happened in the city of K., where the town council
voted to exile a girl

So thickset and squat
that no stylish dress could ever suit her,

But let’s not yearn for the days of prenormalization.
Just think of the torments, the anxieties, the sweat,
the wiles needed to entice, in spite of all.


          Translated by Clare Cavanagh

Czeslaw Milosz, "Normalization" from Collected Poems, 1931-1987. Copyright © 1988 by Czeslaw Milosz Royalties, Inc. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Source: Poetry (February 2005).

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This poem originally appeared in the February 2005 issue of Poetry magazine

February 2005
 Czeslaw  Milosz

Biography

Czeslaw Milosz ranks among the most respected figures in twentieth-century Polish literature, as well as one of the most respected contemporary poets in the world: he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. Born in Lithuania, where his parents moved temporarily to escape the political upheaval in their native Poland, as an adult, he left Poland due to the oppressive Communist regime that came to power following World . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT The Body, Living, Humor & Satire, Nature, Arts & Sciences, Relationships, Coming of Age, Men & Women

POET’S REGION Poland

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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