Treasure Island

Marge Piercy

(March 31, 1936 / Detroit, Michigan)

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 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.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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  • Colleen Courtney (5/18/2014 7:14:00 PM)

    Such a perfect poem for the times of today. It's so much better to admire a hard physical worker wh may work for peanuts than one who sits high up and passes the buck while raking in millions.
    A wonderful write! (Report) Reply

  • Leslie Audes (2/17/2010 9:23:00 PM)

    This poem feels more relevant to me now than ever before. The perfect manifesto for social change! gotta love it (Report) Reply

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