Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
from “A Psalm of Life”
Hello to All who are gathered here today in the dVerse Universe, a site of pubtalk and poetry. This Monday is where you and your muse are prompted to write a Quadrille. The name for the quadrille form is taken from an 18th Century dance, but as you may know, is also dVerse’ poetic form of just 44 words (not counting the title) and includes one word the host provides to you. Today it’s me, Lisa, also ready to serve drinks and snacks from the magic cupboard.
In the United States, we honor laborers today, which made it easy to choose the word we will write to: work. I boldly claim that each person reading this is intimately acquainted with work, starting with (by proxy) when our mothers gave birth to us.
Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.
–Sylvia Plath, from Morning Song
As infants, we traveled through our developmental stages, learning to hold our heads up, roll over, sit up, crawl, pull ourselves up to standing, and to take those first tottering steps. As we grew we set ourselves to tasks. Work to a child takes on thrilling forms that teach all sorts of lessons.
I worked the river’s slick banks, grabbling
in mud holes underneath tree roots.
You’d think it would be dangerous,
but I never came up with a cooter
or cottonmouth hung on my fingertips.
Occasionally, though, I leapt upright,
my fingers hooked through the red gills
of a mudcat. And then I thrilled
–Andrew Hudgins, from Child on the Marsh
Each person reading also worked as a child as they learned to speak, read, and write, and to navigate the social and cultural context they found themselves in. The work of practice continues.
Crossing the Days, by James Scruton
My son’s been learning time: big hand
and little, powers of sixty
and of twenty-four, the slow semaphore
of days. He’s brought home paper plates
from kindergarten, arrows pointing
at his favorite hours. So far
the face of every clock has smiled.
And before we read to sleep each night
he crosses off another square
on the calendar above his bed,
counting down to Christmas or to nothing
in particular, sometimes just a line
he draws uphill or down, check marks
like the ones his teacher leaves
on sheets he’s filled with capitals
and lower cases, other times a pair
of thick lines like the crossed bones
on a pirate’s flag, an X
as if to mark the treasure buried
in some ordinary week,
no day yet a cross to bear.
As we became more proficient and our coordination grew we were given chores to do and if we were lucky we got an allowance. This was practice for the world of adult work. Our tasks and our compensations are as varied as zip codes across the globe. For those in the labor trafficking realm, the experience of work takes on a whole other dimension.
As adults who decided to write poetry, I also feel certain each of us has labored over finding just the right words to make the concepts, emotions, spirits dancing around in our heads manifest on the page.
By Gary Lemons
The veiled shape is a grandmother
To the young boys working beside
Her—packing stones from the field
On the journey toward subsistence.
Above them the Hindu Kush
Disappears behind storm clouds the color of
Milk in a metal pail.
The grandfather is grinding
Blades the way time sharpens
Distrust—the stones fall
From the mountains all winter—
Almost always at night—
The sound of them ganging up
On starlight leaves a musical note
Like jostled skewers.
There’s nothing militant
Here unless the noise of a shovel
Is the voice of heresy—
The missile enters the poem
The way a horse defecates on an ant colony
Simply because everything is
Where it is when shit happens—
If I were writing this poem
I’d ignore the falcon hunting
What small life escapes the heat signature
Because it’s pushed by million-year-
Old imperatives and unlike
Us it has no off switch.
This is where the poem
Fails—where all literature fails—
To thirst sufficiently to drink the last drip
From the cold faucet attached
To the executioner’s heart.
Sometimes it takes a lot of work to keep hope alive. I do look at poets as keepers of the flame.
The seder’s order
By Marge Piercy
The songs we join in
are beeswax candles
burning with no smoke
a clean fire licking at the evening
our voices small flames quivering.
The songs string us like beads
on the hour. The ritual is
its own melody that leads us
where we have gone before
and hope to go again, the comfort
of year after year. Order:
we must touch each base
of the haggadah as we pass,
dipping this and that. Voices
half harmonize on the brukhahs.
Dear faces like a multitude
of moons hang over the table
and the truest brief blessing:
affection and peace that we make.
Once again, we come to the place where you put your proverbial pen to paper and work out your poetic spirit’s will in words.
• Pen us a poem of precisely 44 words (not counting the title), including some form of the word work.
• Post your Quadrille piece on your blog and link back to this post.
• Place the link to your actual post (not your blog url) on the Mister Linky page.
• Please visit other blogs and comment on their posts!
• Have fun (only if you want to!)
Top image: Women at the Riverside by Paul Gauguin
A Psalm of Life
Child on the Marsh
Image: Classroom Scene by William H. Johnson
Crossing the Days
The seder’s order
Image: A good poem by Dylan Thomas