POEM OF THE DAY -- "What Work Is" by Philip Levine (U.S. Poet Laureate)
Philip Levine has been named the United States Poet Laureate. My exposure to Levine has been admittedly very limited, but in recent days I've been delving into some of his work (he has 20 published collections so far) and I am enthralled.
Described by some as the Whitman of today's workingman, his work speaks an everyday language and blends blue collar sensibility and pain with persistent human elements - touching on injustice, irony and human suffering and sacrifice as a sort of "greed seed" for lining the pockets of those who rule our economy.
Here is one of his most popular works (from the collection of the same name); there will be much more of his work published on our blog, because quite simply, his work is very appropriate in an age of S & P downgrades, investment banking corruption and Wall Street greed and theft.
Enjoy the work of a man who appears to be one of the most accessible Poet Lauriates -- ever.
What Work Is
By Philip Levine
We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work
You know what work is — if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don’t know what work is.