Monday, April 16, 2012

Poem for a Monday: Real Work

At some point we start to learn, really learn, from our children.  I don’t know when it begins, or when it began, for me, but my teenage daughter teaches me every day.

This Monday began her spring break week.  It’s her senior year in high school, and while she’s got some pretty big fun planned for the end of the week, she didn’t have many plans for the beginning.  Unbeknownst to me, she called our local food bank and scheduled volunteer hours for herself. 

She chops vegetables, sorts donations, cooks, cleans, and serves food to the clients who come for a meal and free groceries each day.  She’s been doing this all year, and when I asked her why she chose to spend her spring break this way, she shrugged and said, “I love working there.  It’s so real.”

It made me think of this Marge Piercy poem, which I’ve loved for a long time.  Never, over all the years that I’ve turned to it, did I imagine this would be my daughter.  But, there you have it.

To be of use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Marge Piercy is the author of 17 novels, 18 volumes of poetry, a memoir, articles, essays, and criticism.  She was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1936 and currently lives on Cape Cod.

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