Friday, May 29, 2009

To Be of Use, a poem by Marge Piercy.

Marge Piercy (born 1936) is an American poet, novelist, and social activist. She says, "I began writing both poetry and fiction when I was fifteen, right after my family moved into a house where I had a room of my own with a door that shut – in other words, when I had privacy for the first time." When asked about the difference between poetry and fiction, Piercy says, "Poetry comes far more directly from my life. Basically I get to exorcise my autobiographical impulses in poetry. I explore other people’s lives in my fiction. Often for me fiction embodies the choices I didn't make, the paths I didn't follow. Poems are built out of sounds and silence. Rhythm and sound values are far more important in poetry than in fiction. Images are central. Poetry to me is more organic, more passionate, more spiritual, more intense. Fiction is about time – what happens if you make one or another choice. What happens next. And then and then and then, as a result of every choice made, what happens? Fiction to me is an art of empathy and imagination. Each novel is like a small world I inhabit for a period of two or three years, and then move on to another small world. The way the I work, I learn each time about different things – areas I would never have studied for my own life."

To Be of Use by Marge Piercy

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.

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