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American Life in Poetry: ‘Work’ by Sally Bliumis-Dunn

By Ted Kooser U.S. poet laureate, 2004-06

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, North Carolina. The poet lives in Armonk, New York.


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.

Poem copyright 2017 by Sally Bliumis-Dunn, “Work,” from “Echolocation,” (Plume Editions, 2017). Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited submissions.

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