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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.

From Circles on the Water: Selected Poems of Marge Piercy
(Alfred A. Knopf, 1982).
Used with permission.




Marge Piercy is the author of 20 poetry collections, 17 novels, a short story collection, a memoir, and five nonfiction books. Her most recent poetry collection is On the Way Out, Turn Off the Light. Marge holds several honorary doctorates and has read her work at more than 575 venues around the world. An enthusiastic gardener, she lives on Cape Cod with her husband and several cats. Learn more about her at






Post New Comment:
Amazing and powerful. It reminds me of my dad, that diving head first and toward a fixed horizon.
Posted 09/07/2020 06:11 PM
This is a fabulous poem! Thank you!
Posted 09/07/2020 04:02 PM
Lori Levy:
Beautiful. Love the line, "The work of the world is common as mud."
Posted 09/07/2020 03:33 PM
Love this poem... "I want to be with people... who move in a common rhythm."
Posted 09/07/2020 01:00 PM
It's a joy to read this poem. I have loved Marge Piercy since I first read her in college. I agree with Sharon about the marvel of her metaphors. Thank you for including this poem.
Posted 09/07/2020 11:49 AM
Thank you!!!!!
Posted 09/07/2020 10:18 AM
The perfect poem for Labor Day.
Posted 09/07/2020 10:05 AM
Fun. Solid, the way a defensive line in football is solid. Nothing will get through.
Posted 09/07/2020 09:57 AM
Sharon Waller Knutson:
I love all the work of Marge Piercy. Her writing skill is superb. Her metaphors wonderful. My favorite line: black sleek heads of seals bouncing like half-submerged balls.
Posted 09/07/2020 07:12 AM

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