21 March 2012

to be of use {a poem, not by me}

At lunch today, I sat outside on a bench and tried to resist the urge to get in my car and drive far, far away from the office.

To a park or a forest preserve or a lake of some kind.

With spring here in full—and early—bloom, sitting a cubicle all day can be heart-wrenching. You notice the bush outside your window taking on an almost-chartreuse green as the leaves grow, and you know that it probably smells just right—of newness, growth, and possibilities.

I mean, really, don't things just feel more possible in the spring? Sure, there's that moment at New Year's when you want to make big goals of reading big books and cooking big meals. And there's that moment in the fall when your brain wants to go back to school, even if you haven't been there in years.

But in the spring, it's as if everyone you meet is a new friend, and stepping out your door in the morning is an adventure.

But sitting in front of a computer is not an adventure; it's what you did through the gray doldrums of winter. You'd much rather be out by that bush, smelling possibilities.

However, I've learned a few things from a few years of office-dwelling:
  • Being inside all day only makes you appreciate outside all the more.
  • You were given a lunch break for a reason. Use it for more than eating at your desk.
  • Hard work is its own reward. Okay, I didn't learn that one from my years in a cubicle; that sounds more like something picked up from years of living in Iowa or from Aesop's Fables or perhaps from both places. But it's true: it can feel good to work hard, contribute something of quality, and have somewhere to go every day where you get free coffee and the chance to use your brain.
To remind me of the importance of that last point, I read a poem as I sat outside at lunch today, one that always makes me thankful to have work to do. I guess this is another thing I've learned from office-dwelling: poetry can get you through days when you'd rather be elsewhere because they bring you a smidge of beauty, right there at your office.

To be of use
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.

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