Poetry Friday (a little late)

Ok, so I'm sorta phoning this one in. But this is absolutely, hands down, one of the most cherished poems I've ever read, by one of my very favorite poets--Marge Piercy. I have and will read it with students again and again, but it is so personally inspiring that I always keep a copy of it visible at my desk/work station.

I hope you all find this as motivating and comforting as I do, no matter what you do day in and day out--no matter how you choose to be of use.

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 stand in the line and haul in their places,
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.

Disclaimer: blogger stinks at maintaining line spacing after publishing (or maybe I'm just an amateur html-ist) so these aren't exactly representative of the way the lines actually appear, although the breaks are the same.


Anonymous said...

Wow -- I read this in 1985 as an English student at University of Buffalo in a textbook called Generation of 2000. Amazing that you've rolled it out here for Friday's edition, nice work !!

enc said...

I love this. I've never seen it before. Thanks for posting it.

Mary Lee said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Also one of my all-time favorite poems.

I spent my authorized teacher work days doing work that was needed to lift up a struggling colleague, help someone new to the building, hammer out a schedule that would work for special ed, speech, Spanish, our team, and, oh, yeah, maybe for me, too.

Today, the Sunday before school starts, I will go in and work for a couple of hours to make sure the first days of school go smoothly. I've done it enough times that I know it will only take a few hours, but I'm not so confident (stoopid) to think that I can just wing it.

So thanks for the poem, and thanks for reminding me to keep my first day activities authentic (or at least as authentic as they need to be for 9 year-olds!)

teach people not books said...

justice--i'm glad it's a sort of unearthing, then! isn't it funny how things come back to us like that?

enc--if you're interested in accessible, empowering poetry, marge piercy is the way to go. some of my favorite volumes: mars and her children, the moon is always female, colors passing through us.

mary lee--i hope i have a colleague like you. your comment reminds me of a text i was just looking at in the new ncte 08-09 catalog (dangerous, dangerous stuff), called teacher identity discourses, about what it means to merge one's personal needs and one's professional needs (and the needs of colleagues) in order for successful identity formation. i will keep your comments in mind and remember that part of this process is to be humble and to reach out, however new i am, to be of assistance to others. and, of course, to ask for help.