To Be of Use

I stumbled upon this poem when I was trying to unearth the one with Marge’s beautiful language about growing the world by growing our meaning of the word “we”, and each time, meaning one more. I’ve heard or read the occasional interview with a tech bro billionaire “success” story, the kind of person we’re meant to admire, after all, the magazine profiles are featuring them, and they’re making the cover of magazine’s and “most influential” lists. And the person, whose name I have forgotten because they struck me as being a deeply unhelpful person and so not worth enfolding in my real or imagined network, said, they were confident they had a lot to offer in a future dystopia. They were getting laser surgery, of course, because spectacles and optometrists and the apocalypse are misaligned… but they knew that they were natural leaders and so that could be the contribution that would warrant their role in the future. And my gut response was, “but you don’t really know what work is.” Perhaps Marge is right. We long to work. But not in servitude to profit-masters and overlords. I think we long to work alongside others, for the greater good of us all. To be of use.

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. 

Marge Piercy

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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