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What Work Is

Rating: 4.0

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you're
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother

ahead of you, maybe ten places.
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COMMENTS OF THE POEM
Matthew Holloway 06 December 2018

A wonderful story told in poetry, thank you

1 0 Reply
Susan Williams 23 January 2015

There is poetry that should be read if one wants to be called educated. This is one of those pieces of literature. A complexity written in simplicity for the feeding of the human soul.

62 4 Reply
Ronald Shields 20 August 2011

i heard Philip Levine read this on Fresh Air, it is simply amazing...his poems are written in a clear voice speaking of simple and straight forward truths. He is the perfect Poet Laureate for our times.

13 1 Reply
Doren Robbins 13 December 2008

Philip Levine's poetry evokes the vibrant durability and continuity of things. It is no accident that the seemingly unbreakable thistle, which survives California's harsh summers, is his 'flower.' At least he has celebrated it in such a way throughout his books. Possibly he has done so because its work is to survive, and it does. the way we must, impassively committed surviving, standing up though the harsh heat, the inevitable storms. Levine's poem, 'What Work Is, ' should be read in this context. To work is to survive, and the details of how difficult or debased work can be are evoked in the title poem and the poem 'Growth' (each the book What Work Is) . Levine was the man, he suffered, he was there. But the symbolic importance of work operates as an emblem of the soul as well, since not knowing how to love, Levine writes, is to not 'know what work is.' We may seem to be closer here to the meaning of work as it occurs in the tragedies, desolations, and betrayals of the remarkable book of poems Hard Labor by the Italian poet Cesare Pavese than to the Whitman of 'A Song of Occupations...' From Doren Robbins essay On What Work Is (Daily Iowan 1992) .

15 2 Reply