who do what has to be done, again and again


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

I love, love, love this poem which I’d never read before seeing it on Katie Noah Gibson’s beautiful blog.


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6 Comments

  1. Posted May 6, 2016 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    It stunned me, too. So glad you loved it. xo

  2. Posted May 6, 2016 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Oh life and the random bits of it that stitch together in unexpected and breathtaking ways…My first introduction to Marge Piercy was three years ago when another member of the nonprofit board I used to serve on read this poem to start the monthly meeting. I remember being equally moved then too. xo

  3. Kristen
    Posted May 6, 2016 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Beautiful. I’m putting these words in my office.

  4. Anya
    Posted May 8, 2016 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    I love this poem– I read it not long ago as a reflection at my work, which is a hospital outreach clinic that mostly takes care of low-income, undocumented patients. Definitely work that is real. As is motherhood– happy Mother’s Day!

  5. Posted May 9, 2016 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    wow. I love this so much. it really really spoke to me when I read it yesterday morning, and I’m re-reading it as I try to “submerge in the task” on a sunny, sleepy Monday morning at work.I’m printing it out and putting it in my planner for inspiration. thanks for sharing!!

  6. Melissa
    Posted May 9, 2016 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Ah – thank you! The line ‘the work of the world is common as mud’ was hidden deep in my memory from years ago. What a wonderful surprise to find it here along with the rest of its sibling lines that make the poem. Thank you for the wonderful gift you’ve put in my path today.