I am a person of strong feelings, and I find it difficult to explain them. If you’ve been following along with me for a while, you’ll recall me mentioning that I’d like to live on my own little farm, with a few animals, as sustainably as possible, preferably a mile or so from my nearest neighbor. I’d like to have extra produce to sell at the end of my lane with an ‘honor box’. I’d like to have wool straight from my own sheep for spinning into yarn. I’d like to keep bees, and give jars of honey as gifts to friends and neighbors. I’d like to eat what I grow. I really, really want that, but it’s hard for me to say why. It’s just in my bones.
I’ve read Marge Piercy’s poem, To Be of Use, several times before. Today when I read it though, my heart squeezed and I thought to myself, yes. Absolutely, yes. This is why I want what I want. She puts into words what I have never been able to.
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 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.
‘Real work’ feels far away right now. It’s on the horizon, but I have to squint to see it, and I have to have patience. It’s not that my time spent volunteering and practicing social work aren’t real and important, because they absolutely are. But sitting in my air condition home, in a middle class neighborhood in the county’s 4th largest city, with neighbors on all sides, my bones are calling out for something else.
So I’ll make myself another cup of tea and read up, until my time comes.