Work and Self Worth

In my second day off between semesters, fresh from a retirement party, I cannot help but think of the role work plays in our sense of worth. I found myself revisiting and playing with a poem I started about my father, who believes fervently in a hard day’s work and told me often when I did not want to do a task, “Think about how good you will feel when it is done.” The underlying message being our value comes from that which we do. I’ve lately come to classify him as an existential Catholic who believes we insert ourselves into the world first by baptism and then by deed.

We stood into the wind, already sweating underneath our dusty caps,

socks staining against the dirt gathered in the bottom of our sneakers.

The bean leaves ripple, showing their pale underbelly,

as the spindles whip shapes into the sky

My father grips a hoe with his big knuckled, turgid veined fist,

hands it to me and tells me where to begin.

“Think about how good you will feel when it is done.”

We crack the topsoil and sink our footprints into the loam,

Walking miles, scouring, our heads pendulum swinging side to side

I pull two-handed the embedded ragweeds, velvetleafs

We shake the clumps of dirt from their greedy roots

Until the soil sticks to our slick forearms, embeds under fingernails,

clings to the hair of our nostrils, and grits between my teeth.

“Think about how good you will feel when it is done.”

The lesson slides down my throat, as I tip the icy thermos,

lifts perspired threads of hair and fabric as I lean

into the rushing air from the back of the truck bed

and think of the crisp line formations of the crops


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