Thursday, July 5, 2007

Poem: To Be Of Use, by Marge Piercy

Mompriest and I are discussing poetry on our respective blogs. Now it's my turn -- and this is the next poem I want to share.

I discovered this poem in a book of essays called The Impossible Will Take a Little While, edited by Paul Rogat Loeb. The essays, from various faith traditions, speak about the connections between social justice and spirituality. There were also several poems in the anthology, including this one. I think of this poem, as well, when I consider my younger stepson and his girlfriend, who last May built a kiln in our backyard for a school project they did together on Japanese Raku pottery.

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.

(from collection called Circles on the Water, Alfred A. Knopf, 1982)


mompriest said...

diane, I like this poem and it's imagery of work and pottery. I'll post a link over at my site (later) and be back soon to reflect more. But first I have to do a little work...

Jan said...

Diane, I'm such a copycat--am linking your great poem from my site, too. Thank you.

Diane said...

glad people are liking this poem... of course I was attracted first to the end... the pottery images, and how the beautiful museum pieces were first meant to be used. and how we need to be used.. I think in terms of the "beautiful" people, and older people who have a beauty in their wrinkles and rought spots, because their lives have been useful.

mompriest said...

I love to look at those wonderful Hopi and Navajo woven baskets, even though they are in museums. They make me think about the lives of the women who wove them, gathering the reeds and materials for weaving. Perhaps dying them, or at least choosing a pleasing arrangment of colors. I think of their lives, their hardships and their joys. I wonder what they carried or made in the baskets and how they used them, despite what the little marker might say.

This is work that lives on and tells a story of what was, a glimpse into human life.

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

I am not much of a poetry person however this one is a favorite - used it in my final candidacy essays once upon a long time ago.
I like the work together - hauling, sweating, keeping to the task at hand always yearning to be of use.

Diane said...

The opening images are of "getting in over our heads" as well.. immersing ourselves in the task... there's something Zenlike about this (living through the task).

mompriest said...

I hadn't thought of it as "zen-like" but I can see what you mean. Mindfully focused on what one is doing without the need to multi-task...

I'm tempted to post this poem on the church you think anyone would get the message of: "The people I love the best jump into work head first without dallying in the shallows..." Maybe putting near the baptismal font...just thinking...

Diane said...

yes, there is a baptismal quality to the first section... diving right in... immersion...I hope some people would get it! The baptismal font would be a good place.

A Year Acceptable said...

diane, what a wonderful poem. i also skimmed the paul loeb book. inspirational stuff in there. very theological exploration of vocation. hope all is well, AYA

Rowan The Dog said...

"... without dallying in the shallows..."

Every Christian I know would think of baptism when they read that. You don't even have to put it by the font. I don't know why you think people wouldn't "get" that.

Linda Diane McMillan
(Rowan's guardian)

Diane said...

glad to hear it about "dallying in the shallows." Do you think it's what Marge Piercy had in mind? Does it matter?

Gannet Girl said...

Well, *I* didn't think of baptism when I read it.

Seeker said...

Yes! Those are the people who catch my interest, too! The jumpers! Wow! I never thought about it before, but it's true. I love Marge Piercy's work...have a well worn copy of "The Moon is Always Female" from a college women's lit of only two books I saved from the class.

I'm going to link this poem onto my site!. Can I get into the poetry discussion?

Diane said...

I don't know about everyone else, but I'd love to have seeker join us.

I was thinking of Keats' Ode To a Grecian Urn. that poem is about art/life, but contrasts (art is eternal, we are mortal) but Piercy really talks about the human quality in art, the things that fade or can be broken or crushed.

mompriest said...

Oh. I think all who wish can join in, seeker included! And my comment about people "getting" it was aimed at those who come to church but never want to do anything because they are "too busy" or "too new" or "too" other words aimed at those very folks who choose not to live into their baptism beyond coming to church on Sunday and then going home virtually unchanged.

But also, it ends up being that clergy often do "love best" the ones who jump in and do the work that needs to be done. We count on them and rely on them and hope we don't "burn them out."

Then, perhaps, we struggle to love some of the others who don't get involved...when we are called to love posting it would be a reminder to all of us, me included.

Diane said...

yes, I hear that danger. I love the people who jump right in too...what quality makes them able to... sometimes it's a passion, sometimes they just "caught" it. others don't jump in because they are afraid...afraid of making a mistake, afraid of over-committing, etc. or they haven't caught the passion... or they're jumping in in other areas that we don't know about...I have to remember that ministry doesn't happen only (or even mainly) in church... in fact part of what sermon tomorrow is about... take the faith out there with you...
this is too long... anyone? back to the poem?