To Be of Use

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.

- Marge Piercy



We walk this earth.
We have
But a short time.
We resemble grasses;
Green in the spring,
Brown in the summer heat,
Withering in the winter wind.
Those who understand this
Put aside their useless quarrels.
The cosmos is unfathomably vast.
The human mind is very small.
An act of kindness is never wasted;
It is the gateway to the deathless and unborn,
It is the exultation of the heart.

-- Jim Wilson
Shaping Words

Location:Addison Dr,Charlotte,United States



THERE is a wolf in me … fangs pointed for tearing gashes … a red tongue for raw meat … and the hot lapping of blood—I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fox in me … a silver-gray fox … I sniff and guess … I pick things out of the wind and air … I nose in the dark night and take sleepers and eat them and hide the feathers … I circle and loop and double-cross.

There is a hog in me … a snout and a belly … a machinery for eating and grunting … a machinery for sleeping satisfied in the sun—I got this too from the wilderness and the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fish in me … I know I came from saltblue water-gates … I scurried with shoals of herring … I blew waterspouts with porpoises … before land was … before the water went down … before Noah … before the first chapter of Genesis.

There is a baboon in me … clambering-clawed … dog-faced … yawping a galoot’s hunger … hairy under the armpits … here are the hawk-eyed hankering men … here are the blond and blue-eyed women … here they hide curled asleep waiting … ready to snarl and kill … ready to sing and give milk … waiting—I keep the baboon because the wilderness says so.

There is an eagle in me and a mockingbird … and the eagle flies among the Rocky Mountains of my dreams and fights among the Sierra crags of what I want … and the mockingbird warbles in the early forenoon before the dew is gone, warbles in the underbrush of my Chattanoogas of hope, gushes over the blue Ozark foothills of my wishes—And I got the eagle and the mockingbird from the wildernes

O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony head, under my red-valve heart—and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart: it is a father and mother and lover: it came from God-Knows-Where: it is going to God-Knows-Where—For I am the keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and kill and work: I am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness.

-- Carl Sandburg



Every Day You Play

This piece by Neruda is easily one of the most sensual and evocative bits of poetry I've ever had the pleasure to read. The last two lines rank as one of my favorite poetic quotes.


Every day you play with the light of the universe.
Subtle visitor, you arrive in the flower and the water.
You are more than this white head that I hold tightly
as a cluster of fruit, every day, between my hands.

You are like nobody since I love you.
Let me spread you out among yellow garlands.
Who writes your name in letters of smoke among the stars of the south?
Oh let me remember you as you were before you existed.

Suddenly the wind howls and bangs at my shut window.
The sky is a net crammed with shadowy fish.
Here all the winds let go sooner or later, all of them.
The rain takes off her clothes.

The birds go by, fleeing.
The wind. The wind.
I can contend only against the power of men.
The storm whirls dark leaves
and turns loose all the boats that were moored last night to the sky.

You are here. Oh, you do not run away.
You will answer me to the last cry.
Cling to me as though you were frightened.
Even so, at one time a strange shadow ran through your eyes.

Now, now too, little one, you bring me honeysuckle,
and even your breasts smell of it.
While the sad wind goes slaughtering butterflies
I love you, and my happiness bites the plum of your mouth.

How you must have suffered getting accustomed to me,
my savage, solitary soul, my name that sends them all running.
So many times we have seen the morning star burn, kissing our eyes,
and over our heads the gray light unwind in turning fans.

My words rained over you, stroking you.
A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body.
I go so far as to think that you own the universe.
I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells,
dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses.
I want
to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.

~ Pablo Neruda


Moon, Flowers, Man

I raise my cup and invite
The moon to come down from the
Sky. I hope she will accept
Me. I raise my cup and ask
The branches, heavy with flowers,
To drink with me. I wish them
Long life and promise never
To pick them. In company
With the moon and the flowers,
I get drunk, and none of us
Ever worries about good
Or bad. How many people
Can comprehend our joy? I
Have wine and moon and flowers.
Who else do I want for drinking companions?

~ Su Tung P'o



Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star's stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is. I met her
in a bar once in Iowa City.
Remember the sun's birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother's, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life also.

Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.

Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.

Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe. I heard her singing Kiowa war
dance songs at the corner of Fourth and Central once.

Remember that you are all people and that all people are you.
Remember that you are this universe and that this universe is you.
Remember that all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember that language comes from this.
Remember the dance that language is, that life is.

~ Joy Harjo


What to Eat, What to Drink, and What to Leave for Poison

Only now, in spring, can the place be named:   
tulip poplar, daffodil, crab apple,   
dogwood, budding pink-green, white-green, yellow   
on my knowing.   All winter I was lost.   
Fall, I found myself here, with no texture   
my fingers know.   Then, worse, the white longing   
that downed us deep three months.   No flower heat.   
That was winter.   But now, in spring, the buds   
flock our trees.   Ten million exquisite buds,   
tiny and loud, flaring their petalled wings,   
bellowing from ashen branches vibrant   
keys, the chords of spring’s triumph: fisted heart,   
dogwood; grail, poplar; wine spray, crab apple.   
The song is drink, is color.   Come.   Now.   Taste.

The song is drink, is color.   Come now, taste   
what the world has to offer.   When you eat   
you will know that music comes in guises—   
bold of crepe myrtle, sweet of daffodil—   
beyond sound, guises they never told you   
could be true.   And they aren’t.   Except they are   
so real now, this spring, you know them, taste them.   
Green as kale, the songs of spring, bright as wine,   
the music.   Faces of this season grin   
with clobbering wantonness—see the smiles   
open on each branch?—until you, too, smile.   
Wide carnival of color, carnival   
of scent.   We’re all lurching down streets, drunk now   
from the poplar’s grail.   Wine spray: crab apple.

From the poplar’s grail, wine spray.   Crab apple   
brightens jealously to compete.   But by   
the crab apple’s deep stain, the tulip tree   
learns modesty.   Only blush, poplar learns,   
lightly.   Never burn such a dark-hued fire   
to the core.   Tulip poplar wants herself   
light under leaf, never, like crab apple,   
heavy under tart fruit.   Never laden.   
So the poplar pours just a hint of wine   
in her cup, while the crab apple, wild one,   
acts as if her body were a fountain.   
She would pour wine onto you, just let her.   
Shameless, she plants herself, and delivers,   
down anyone’s street, bright invitations.

Down anyone’s street-bright invitations.   
Suck ‘em.   Swallow ‘em.   Eat them whole.   That’s right,   
be greedy about it.   The brightness calls   
and you follow because you want to taste,   
because you want to be welcomed inside   
the code of that color: red for thirst; green   
for hunger; pink, a kiss; and white, stain me   
now.   Soil me with touching.   Is that right?   
No?   That’s not, you say, what you meant.   Not what   
you meant at all?   Pardon.   Excuse me, please.   
Your hand was reaching, tugging at this shirt   
of flowers and I thought, I guess I thought   
you were hungry for something beautiful.   
Come now.   The brightness here might fill you up.

Come.   Now the brightness here might fill you up,   
but tomorrow?   Who can know what the next   
day will bring.   It is like that, here, in spring.   
Four days ago, the dogwood was a fist   
in protest.   Now look.   Even she unfurls   
to the pleasure of the season.   Don’t be   
ashamed of yourself.   Don’t be.    This happens   
to us all.   We have thrown back the blanket.   
We’re naked and we’ve grown to love ourselves.   
I tell you, do not be ashamed.   Who is   
more wanton than the dancing crepe myrtle?   
Is she ashamed?   Why, even the dogwood,   
that righteous tree of God’s, is full of lust   
exploding into brightness every spring.

Exploding into brightness every spring,   
I draw you close.   I wonder, do you know   
how long I’ve wanted to be here?   Each year   
you grasp me, lift me, carry me inside.   
Glee is the body of the daffodil   
reaching tubed fingers through the day, feeling   
her own trumpeted passion choiring air   
with hot, colored song.   This is a texture   
I love.   This is life.   And, too, you love me,   
inhale my whole being every spring.   Gone   
winter, heavy clod whose icy body   
fell into my bed.   I must leave you, but   
I’ll wait through heat, fall, freeze to hear you cry:   
Daffodils are up.   My God, what beauty!

Daffodils are up, my God!   What beauty   
concerted down on us last night.   And if   
I sleep again, I’ll wake to a louder   
blossoming, the symphony smashing down   
hothouse walls, and into the world: music.   
Something like the birds’ return, each morning’s   
crescendo rising toward its brightest pitch,   
colors unfurling, petals alluring.   
The song, the color, the rising ecstasy   
of spring.   My God.   This beauty.   This, this   
is what I’ve hoped for.   All my life is here   
in the unnamed core—dogwood, daffodil,   
tulip poplar, crab apple, crepe myrtle—   
only now, in spring, can the place be named.

-Camille Dungy

From "The Months"

When the Earl King came
to steal away the child
in Goethe's poem, the father said
don't be afraid,
it's just the wind...
As if it weren't the wind
that blows away the tender
fragments of this world—
leftover leaves in the corners
of the garden, a Lenten Rose
that thought it safe
to bloom so early.

- Linda Pastan


Ode to Gaiety

Go gloom
Begone glum and grim
Off with the drab drear and grumble
It's time
its pastime
to come undone and come out laughing
time to wrap killjoys in wet blankets
and feed them to the sourpusses
Come frisky pals
Come forth wily wags
Loosen your screws and get off your rocker
Untie the strait lacer
Tie up the smarty pants
Tickle the crosspatch with josh and guffaw
Share quips and pranks with every victim
of grouch pomposity or blah
Woe to the bozo who says No to
tee hee ho ho and ha ha
Boo to the cleancut klutz who
wipes the smile off his face
Without gaiety
freedom is a chastity belt
Without gaiety
life is a wooden kimono
Come cheerful chums
Cut up and carry on
Crack your pots and split your sides
Boggle the bellyacher
Convulse the worrywart
Pratfall the prissy poos and the fuddy duds
Take drollery to heart or end up a deadhead
at the guillotine of the mindless
Be wise and go merry round
whatever you cherish
what you love to enjoy what you live to exert
And when the high spirits
call your number up
count on merriment all the way to the countdown
Long live hilarity euphoria and flumadiddle
Long live gaiety
for all the laity
~ James Broughton


A poem for my best boy

to live in this world

you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go

- Mary Oliver