Those who survived the Great Depression of the 1930s have a tough, no-nonsense take on what work is. If when I was young I'd told my father I was looking for fulfilling work, he would have looked at me as if I'd just arrived from Mars. Here the Pennsylvania poet, Jan Beatty, takes on the voice of her father to illustrate the thinking of a generation of Americans.
My Father Teaches Me to Dream
You want to know what work is?
I'll tell you what work is:
Work is work.
You get up. You get on the bus.
You don't look from side to side.
You keep your eyes straight ahead.
That way nobody bothers you--see?
You get off the bus. You work all day.
You get back on the bus at night. Same thing.
You go to sleep. You get up.
You do the same thing again.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
There's no handouts in this life.
All this other stuff you're looking for--
it ain't there.
Work is work.
First printed in "Witness," Volume 10, Number 2, and reprinted by permission of the author. Copyright (c) 1996 by Jan Beatty, whose latest book, "Boneshaker," was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2002. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.
Also at Virtual Grub Street by/about Ted Kooser:
- The Ted Kooser Page: Links to online Interviews, Recordings, Poetry, Prose, Reviews, Photos and more;
- Ted Kooser and the American Life in Poetry column;
- American Life in Poetry #70: Sharon Olds;
- American Life in Poetry #68: Wendell Berry;
- American Life in Poetry #53: Peter Pereira;
- American Life in Poetry #49: Rodney Torreson;
- American Life in Poetry #30: Naomi Shihab Nye;
- American Life in Poetry #26: Claudia Emerson;
- American Life in Poetry #11: David Wagoner;
- American Life in Poetry #4: Ruth Stone;
- More from American Life in Poetry >>>
Also of Interest:
- Call for Submissions Page: A regularly updated listing of competitions and calls for submission of poetry, prose, freelance journalism, visual arts, academic/professional papers and more.