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To Be Of Use

I have an old wooden bowl I bought in Alabama a few years ago. It is beautiful and it sat on a shelf, looking beautiful. One night, a friend of mine suggested we put salad in it for dinner. I thought about it for a minute— what would happen if I filled it with salad greens and put it on the table? The bowl was put to use and looked right at home on the table, much more beautiful than sitting, empty, on the shelf.

Why was I reluctant to use the bowl? It was made years ago for the sole purpose of holding items and somewhere along the line, it moved from wooden bowl to antique. I was scared I would ruin it if I put salad greens in it, it was 'too special'. Ironically, the bowl looks better because of its use— the salad oil has moisturized the wood and it has a beautiful patina. Patina comes from use and that is truly beautiful.

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 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