Marge Piercy poem: “To be of use”

Samos amphora

Samos amphora kept at Bodrum castle (Turkey). Samos is a Greek island in the North Aegean sea, off the Ionian coast of Turkey. In classical antiquity the island was a centre of Ionian culture and luxury, renowned for its Samian wines. By Ad Meskens via Wikimedia Commons


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.


— Marge Piercy, from Circles on the Water



Filed under Ancient History, Featured Artists, Videos/Photos/Slides

3 Responses to Marge Piercy poem: “To be of use”

  1. Vicki

    Beautiful. Remember when she came to Boise? I still don’t know why I was chosen to have lunch with her at Christina’s but it was super.

    I didn’t turn out to be such a person as this, but I managed to find one to love. I’m lucky, I know, but is she? I don’t exactly know. I just hope she didn’t settle.
    I think that the possible reason I didn’t turn out like this is I didn’t see much of it when I was young. And I wasn’t very good at doing the ‘right’ thing in my mother’s eyes. In fact most everything I did was wrong, so I compensated by not doing much at all. Besides, it was St. Croix where the motto was, tomorrow.
    It sticks with you. I know that therapy is suppose to help with this kind of thing. But the thing is still there.

    I’m still doing much of the wrong stuff.
    So what! I love well otherwise and I almost have an acceptable method for the dishes and the laundry now. And an overwhelming appreciation for the beauty of technique, or is it the technique of beauty?

    • Jan

      Vicki, that is wonderful to learn about! I remember her well and listened to her talk. What a treasured moment for you, dear…xoxo

  2. Pingback: The Friend By Marge Piercy | Renard Moreau Presents

Thank you for visiting Jane Street Clayworks!