To Be of Use {Poem}.~ Stewart J. Lawrence

Via elephant journal
on May 23, 2012
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Feminist poet and author Marge Piercy turned 75 on March 28.  When I was coming of age in my 20s, she was on the reading list of every kick-ass feminist I knew.

These women weren’t into yoga – they danced.  And when they weren’t dancing, they were arguing about politics, life and gender—and organizing for real change.

And as feminists, they loved— no, adored—their men.  They were fearless and combative, but they couldn’t have imagined it any other way.  It wasn’t that hard, because they truly loved themselves.

These women, now in their 50s, mothers with grown children—and in some cases, already grandmothers—wouldn’t recognize the fearful and divisive “politics” of so many women today, who are coming of age as they did decades ago.

Feminism, having grown up in the “Me-Generation” of the 1980s and 1990s, has been indelibly stamped by it.   Back in the day, people didn’t talk about “empowerment” as a personal quest for wealth, stardom, or Lululemon-style “greatness.”    Empowerment was about standing powerfully with others, about supporting struggling families and communities in need.  It wasn’t about “me”—it was about “we”.

And there wasn’t anything mediocre about it.

Whom have you inspired lately with your passion and courage?  What cause or task have you humbly dedicated yourself to, without any prospect of personal reward or recognition?

How have you become ready “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.


Editor: Hayley Samuelson


Stewart J. Lawrence is a lifelong snoop, sneak, critic and scribe. He credits his Sephardic Jewish father for his affinity for the Spanish-speaking world, his poetic sensibilities, and his unflinching desire to speak truth to power. His mother, who largely raised him, did her best to endow her son with common sense, financial acumen, and a spirit of generosity toward his fellow man—largely to no avail.  Stewart formally renounced the small, dull, grubby world of the bourgeois householder at age 50—and has no intention of turning back; however, on the advice of his attorney, he has agreed to comply with all outstanding warrants and alimony requests. When not navel gazing alone in perfect bliss under a Banyan tree, he contributes regular articles on Latino affairs, immigration, presidential politics, and yes, yoga, to theGuardian, Counterpunch, Huffington Post, the World and I, and the Los Angeles Times. He is co-author, with John Barton, of Four More Years: the Overwhelming Case for President Obama’s Second Term (forthcoming, June 2012).


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3 Responses to “To Be of Use {Poem}.~ Stewart J. Lawrence”

  1. Really enjoyed this, Stewart. Thank you.


  2. yogasamurai says:

    Thanks, Bob. I think there's an unusually strong sense of "entitlement" among many women coming of age these days; but that's also bound, in part, by race and class. There's also a real lack of perspective on where things once were and how they have evolved. Finally, I think any "movement" that sticks around long enough will come to reflect the ethos of the dominant culture – and end up serving it, and itself, in a much narrower sense. You lose your claim to universality, and your ability to "lead" and "inspire."

    It helps to have elders, and elder wisdom, present. It helps you to define yourself, to understand your own "lineage". We had that. I had that. A lot of people coming up these days are operating in a real void, I think. In the end, though, it's just one man's view. But imagine anyone under 25 these days actually listening to anyone?

    Cheers, thanks again, Stewart

  3. […] We must get so angry that we are speaking up and speaking out. […]