American Life in Poetry: Column 741

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

When I was a nasty little kid I once made fun of a girl in my school because her father worked cutting up dead animals at a rendering plant. My mother sat me down and said, Ted, all work is honorable. I’ve never forgotten that. Here’s a fine poem about the nobility of work by Sally Bliumis-Dunn, from her book Echolocation, published by Plume Editions, Asheville, NC. The poet lives in Armonk, New York.

Work

I could tell they were father and son,
the air between them slack, as though
they hardly noticed one another.
 
The father sanded the gunwales,
the boy coiled the lines.
And I admired them there, each to his task
 
in the quiet of the long familiar.
The sawdust coated the father's arms
like dusk coats grass in a field.
 
The boy worked next on the oarlocks
polishing the brass until it gleamed,
as though he could harness the sun.
 
Who cares what they were thinking,
lucky in their lives
that the spin of the genetic wheel
 
slowed twice to a stop
and landed each of them here.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2017 by Sally Bliumis-Dunn, "Work," from Echolocation, (Plume Editions, 2017). Poem reprinted by permission of Sally Bliumis-Dunn and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.