Sometimes people can leave you little bits of themselves in ways that neither you nor they quite realize at the time. David Stemper obviously made a habit of this.
I worked with David for a while about a year ago and he introduced me to the poem below from Marge Piercy. I love it and am thankful to him. David died unexpectedly less than two weeks ago and, at his memorial service, many of his friends chose to read poems, explaining how David’s enthusiasm for words and ideas had stayed with them.
I didn’t know either of the poems below (the first by Langston Hughes and the second by a poet from Chile, Pablo Neruda) but I liked them –and they were very, very David. Hope they stay with you.
To be of use
by Marge Piercy
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 stand in the line and haul in their places,
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.
“To be of use” by Marge Piercy © 1973, 1982.
From CIRCLES ON THE WATER © 1982 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. and Middlemarsh, Inc.
The Dream Keeper
Bring me all of your dreams,
Bring me all of your
That I may wrap them
In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
Of the world.
ODE TO SOME YELLOW FLOWERS
Rolling its blues against another blue,
the sea, and against the sky
some yellow flowers.
October is on its way.
the sea may well be important, with its unfolding
myths, its purpose and its risings,
when the gold of a single
in the sand
to the soil.
They flee the wide sea and its heavings.
We are dust and to dust return.
In the end we’re
neither air, nor fire, nor water,
neither more nor less, just dirt,
some yellow flowers.