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April 2000

In reading some Poems of Work, I reread one of my favorite Gary Snyder poems - "Hay for the Horses." I first read it in high school and rereading it now, as I approach retirement, it has new meaning

It makes me (and I'm sure most readers) stop and think about what I have done with my own life and work. How many times have we seen surveys that tell us the high percentage of people that are unhappy with their jobs, regret their choices, wish they had walked different roads. And yet, I also hear in this poem someone perhaps surprised that they continued in the same job, but satisfied in hard work done well.

Our current prompt is the topic of work. Good or bad, satisfying or not. The paying job, or the unpaid labor.

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.

The Work

Between the leaves and branches
the wind has carried the sound of the bell.
Even from this distance the sound
is rich and deep on the cold night air.
A memory says go; desire says stay,
and I let the sound wrap around me
as if there was a choice. The wind bending the leaves, the clouds
whispering around the moon, the tree's gnarled rooting.
If there was a turning back, the decision
would have to be at this moment.
But the bell's single syllable
resonates with the opening of many gates.

Cheryl Soback

Are You Still

At the same place,
doing the same job
After all these years? I am still
My long-stemmed insecurities
Feeling the thorns of my
Imagined shortcomings I am still
Under the weight
Of your blossoming accusations
Impugning my worth I am still
To hurl accusations at your crystal
Bowl of grandiose schemes
And wilted dreams instead I am still
At dawn ready to tend with
Clay clotted fingernails the
Seedlings in a garden that I love

Susan Sapnar

Teachers Work

Teachers work for crumbs
that come from the lavish feast,
the more-than-you-can-eat
smorgasbord society spreads
for tongue-studded guitar pickers,
steroid-pumped ball chuckers,
and the ones that elicit the biggest fan screams -
stars of big and little screens
who go, "Like, you know."
All have for dessert the option
of demanding that there be more
at the next smorgasbord
before agreeing to attend
again.  Oh, the doctors and the lawyers
and the corporation chiefs
are invited to partake of the buffet,
but only all-they-can-eat, never more-.
But teachers are expected to accept
crumbs from a prix fixe menu,
lest by ordering a la carte
they might be seen to be unseemly.

Gretchen Fletcher

What's A Parent's Job?

(When the guy next door says, "This is the third day in a row your sons have leaned against my garage!")

Just five little kids with no place to play
enlivened  our neighbor to knock on our door
and threaten us all with his anger-filled voice.
When Daddy came home and heard the account
he cried, "Let's get rid of this place and escape!
A farm would be right;  so let's do it NOW!"

So, Mother-work changes, heeding Dad's voice,
and freeing my efforts to bring into play
what I always wanted for children.  So now
I keep the kids home and plot our escape
by placing an ad, which brings to the door
a renter agreeing to  assume our account.

It wouldn't be easy, this plan to escape
the crush of the city.   Its non-sleeping voice
keeps haunting my nightmares  - yes, even now
as I hold my babies behind the new door
of this lovely world.  This farm, this account
is not a mere dream.  My children can play

wherever they please.  The sound of my voice,
is all that determines their limit of play
O'er all of its acres.  We've found our escape!
But Mother  must ask, "Just where are we now;
and what is MY job since I've opened this door
of freedom for THEM?  How will I account
to Daddy - this new type of work and of play -
when he will return - from his job - to our door?"

As also a farmer I need to keep account
of profits and losses.   I must have a voice
in planning the future of these children, now
with husband away to support our escape.

I buy a few cows to start my account
and borrow machinery from farmers next door
to harrow the land for crops needed now.
The children plant seeds - as part of their play -
to ready our garden.  None can escape
the challenge we face.  We sing with one voice.

It's when we escape from the meanies next door
and account for the pieces we need in our play
that we share with that voice the importance of NOW!

Catherine M. LeGault


One more day after the other,
a mindless struggle
After the first few days,
I smile 'cause I know it was years ago
when I would write the songs no one would ever hear
And kept them in the back of my mind
hoping to willingly seduce this day into mere hours.
A simple chore,
it would seem to the unmanaged eye.
A simple chore,
A simple

Lori Skyline


The soil exists for the soil alone,
as the shovel pries its existence
in the knifing pressure, then the
slow motion arc and twist.
Repetition yields progress
as earth itself is moved
by callused hands, shovel by shovel.
The holes are dug anytime, anyplace:
narrow trenches, long and straight,
lined with plastic or steel
in rigid arteries and veins of
sanitation, supply and drainage,
wide gaping excavations
awaiting the arabesque armatures
of rusted steel, deformed bars,
and the liquid solid of concrete.
Then, shovel by shovel,
arc and twist by arc and twist,
the hole, the trench, the excavation
is slowly filled and soil is earth again.

In the roar of engines,
spitting black diesel smoke
as backup alarms beep, beep
a strange half-beat cadence,
overhead iron floats
and dips through the sky
to rest in strange frameworks.
Far above me, ironworkers
walk the narrow paths of
girders and beams,
fearless in their tiny footholds.
They wrap the sky in their frame
and color me in their shadow,
they dare to soar high above
my concrete foundations,
as I, earthbound in numbers,
facts and figures dream of Icarus
as iron frames the sun.

Art transformed to function,
glass and brick solidifies
the framework web,
as form and mass merge
in monuments to life
and living, to work
and prosperity.

James M. Thompson

Making A Difference

From grey to white, the day begins anew
we start each days journey pondering the path of yesterday
resolutions unfinished a look into the mirror, asking for praise
the eyes look back inwards as the heart tries to offer comfort
"we can make a difference"
thus we begin by cleansing yesterday's wounds
the journey too lends our minds to others troubles
a chance to reflect on our own
the dial moves till it matches our unconscious
then the soul is fed its daily bread of others wretchedness
"today I will make a difference"
thus the machine begins its calculations
offering solutions, perfect answers to question previously asked
all to fall quietly away at the first site of the task at hand
for it is the process, the recognition of fear,
motivation slips to survival upon the first glance
and soon the heart beats with the click of the clock
time passes and takes faith only to leave fate small moments of glory,
celebrated alone
another one for the team, but the coach wasn't watching
this one will be for the mirror
as they all have been soon the gleaming lends to forgetfulness
we bleed our troubles to the journey home
thinking of the habitual numbness
the outlets that will get us through till tomorrow
a chance to reflect, to promise
to cleanse and feed
I will make a difference
"tomorrow, my moment will come"

  W.T. Moore III