What Work Is: In Memory of Philip Levine

It’s the running from place to place

gunning a packed schedule

trying to please everyone and never yourself

not having time

or air

or freedom

of choice


Work is trudging through feet of snow

in 12 below

and knowing

you can’t possibly go fast enough

your breath clouding in puffs before your face,

sifting off to clouds that seem to never work at all.


Some days, I work so hard I never get the actual work done

and that’s just a fact

of this hamster wheel of life.


But then you read a book about survival

during war and you realize all

this is make-work

and you’ve never had to fight

for anything, really,

and you wonder about the work you’ve chosen

and that you even get a choice in the work

is a fantastic luxury.


No matter how long the to-do list,

there will always be unfinished

work and you’ll just have to do

what is urgent,

right in front

of you, and trust

that everything will work

out as it should.





that’s not work because we just do it


but it IS work

when it doesn’t come easy.

The absence of work

is perhaps the cruelest work there is,

no purpose or pursuit,

no passion driving

incredibly long days.


To matter,

have a life’s mission,

focus on this one moment,

that’s the hardest work

and the most elusive.


After Philip Levine died,

we are left with our own wonderings

about what work is

and perhaps it is an illusion

in the end, setting us on a path

to set us free.

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