To Be of Use

My aunt shared Marge Piercy’s poem “To Be of Use” with me not long after my mother died.  This was twenty years ago.  At the time these words resonated with our vivid sense of my mom, her sister.  Sandy Krase didn’t dally in the shallows, but swam through life with sure strokes.  She submerged herself in the task at hand, whatever it was, reveling in the hard work of it all, the straining “in the mud and the muck to move things forward.”  She was a force of nature.

Over the past two decades I’ve pondered this poem from time to time, sometimes simply remembering my mother, but sometimes wondering, “Am I of use?”  Especially when my work has felt too cerebral, too far removed from the useful day to day, I’ve called these words to mind…

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 stand in the line and haul in their places,

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.

This poem has been on the tip of my tongue this past month, as Farm Church has broken ground (broken clay!), moved earth, pulled weeds, tilled… What a joy it is to create a common rhythm with a dozen or so people in a field, all of us sweating, elbow-deep in soil, and happy to be there!  It’s a magic element of the Divine image in us, I think, that we can enjoy such hard work together. 

Part of my own joy in this work is that Farm Church has people.  People who show up in their grubbies for church, roll up their sleeves, and attack Bermuda grass – people who “jump into work head first without dallying in the shallows.”  Having dreamed about Farm Church for so long, I can’t quite convey my constant joy and surprise that this thing is happening – that the Farm Church dream is coming alive with real, living people who are submerging themselves in the task.  I’m not kidding when I say that I’m pinching myself these days, it’s so real.

Thank you, all of you, who are helping us be of use.  We know it as fact that Farm Church wouldn’t be where it is without the steady support of so many of you who’ve been praying for us, supporting us financially, and chiming in with encouragement and wisdom.  You are an integral part of the very real work of Farm Church, and on behalf of all of us here in Durham, I give great thanks for you!

Ok.  Here’s the poem.  Blessings and Peace,

Ben

 

"To Be of Use" by 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 stand in the line and haul in their places,

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.