A Poem by Marge Piercy on Her Birthday

Marge Piercy was born in Detroit, Michigan, on March 31, 1936. Her working-class parents were Jewish, and they lived in a predominatly black neighborhood, where the Great Depression hit hard. She became the first in her family to go to college, on a scholarship to the University of Michigan, where she joined and became an organizer for political movements like the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and Anti-Vietnam War/Pro-Peace groups. She’s a feminist, a Marxist, and an environmentalist. Piercy is also a prolific writer, with almost 20 novels and over 20 books of poetry published. She’s written plays, several volumes of nonfiction, a memoir, and edited the anthology Early Ripening: American Women’s Poetry Now. Piercy also explores Jewish issues, and was poetry editor of Tikkun Magazine. She won a National Endowment for the Arts Award in 1978, the Carolyn Kizer Poetry Prize in 1986 and in 1990, the May Sarton Award in 1991, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction in 1992.

To read Marge Piercy’s poem “To Be of Use” click:

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 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.

“To be of use” from Circles on the Water, © 1982 by Marge Piercy – Alfred A. Knopf

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Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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