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’s novels and poetry often focus on women’s lives, almost always working class women and wide-ranging social concerns, although her settings vary. She has won many awards, and one of the most influential writers on women’s concerns and issues.
Raised in Detroit and deeply affected by the Great Depression, our poet Marge Piercy is the first in her family to attend college. Piercy’s maternal grandfather Morris was a union organizer, murdered while organizing bakery workers. Her maternal grandmother, Hannah, of whom Piercy was particularly fond, was born in a Lithuanian stetl, the daughter of a rabbi and was a great storyteller.
Marge Piercy’s work shows a lifelong commitment to progressive social change (what she might call, in terms, tikkun olam, or the repair of the world). This poem ‘To Be Of Use’ exemplifies her love of those who do the work of the world.