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.
Tomorrow morning I will be heading back to the U.P. with my family until next Saturday. I am, as always, eagerly anticipating my time there, looking forward to interacting anew within that context of primal familiarity that nevertheless enables me to be "Surprised by Joy", as C. S. Lewis put it, by water, air, fire, starlight, open space and connection with people I know as well as I know myself and yet, still finding Mystery. Every year, I arrive at the place, arrange our things in the same cottage, head down to the same beach and find the same chair and move it beneath the bluff. As I set my overloaded bag down on the sand and look out at the water and sky, I always take a deep breath and release an almost inaudible sigh of tender and profound relaxation, not from any lingering tension in my life, but because the place is my touchstone. My arrival on the beach, ready to spend precious time looking, breathing, reading, thinking and writing and enjoying my family and friends, is not only the high-water mark of my year; it's where my year starts. The cycle of my life, my sense of time passing, is marked by this yearly pilgrimage back to center; my center. On every square inch of the property, my family and childhood are mixed into the sand and air, the paint and varnish, the kitchen cupboards, the wood floors. I walk barefoot through the same grass and sand where I once followed my father to our boat in the cool, early morning to go fishing with him. I listen to the wooden docks creak beneath my feet as they always have, yet now, I can smile with the knowledge that my two boys' helped place these docks, participating in the yearly work that transforms a family home into a Resort for what are now several generations of families. Work that is real...
I learned long ago that in order for me to be complete; I have to do real work. As predisposed as I am to doing not much more than sitting still, watching the world, lost in close observation of something, or someone; finding the questions, seeing the hidden beauty, or fear; the longing, or passion...nosing around in the dark corners and rooting through cluttered up closets...I am lost without putting my hands to something; I have to engage my senses; my body. I have to knead bread, make soup, attend a laboring woman, love a person, sit with the dying, and the bereaved, plant and tend the garden, play my piano, sing, dance; mother my children. Someone once said that "work is love made visible" and while I don't like the slightly oozy sentimentality of the phrase, there is a simple truth in it; work is our Art. Finding our work is finding our peace and our joy!
It seems odd, then, I suppose, to be talking about work when I am about to head off on holiday! I'm officially "on vacation" as of 6 hours from now; why talk about work? Well, because part of my work is making this trip each year, and using it as I do; to fuel the fire, to tend my soul, to stay in touch with, and to build up, my interior reality; to stay real. To stay "close to the root".
Vincent Van Gogh once wrote to his brother, Theo, that "to know God, you must love many things". And so it is for me. To know God, and the True Self that is God-in-us, I have to love many things and in repeating this yearly ritual of recollection and renewal; I stay true to form; I come back home to the Garden...
And in the homestead garden, the corn is almost knee high; it will surely make it there by the 4th of July! My tomatoes and green peppers are healthy and thriving. The squash is threatening to take over, as it always does; I didn't plant any pumpkins this year; they're too greedy for space. The Kale and Broccoli are gorgeous and I have more Romaine than I know what to do with; I over-planted lettuce! If you're in the area and hankering for fresh salad greens, I have plenty! We've taken down some mulberry trees and moved our raspberries from one side of the yard to another and transplanted some of our Rose of Sharon to my mother-in law's yard; we've been busy and having a great time!
I hope those of you who read here regularly will come back and sit with this poem a couple of times this week; it's one I'll be working with in my own writing during this week away.
Words connected to Place and Spirit...Work that is Real.