Reading Mindfully: Philip Levine’s “What Work Is”
February 3, 2017 | Capria Jaussen
Each month, we offer you a chance to read mindfully, to use literature to think about your perceptions and reactions to the world in which we live and work. Through these short texts and accompanying questions, we hope to give you a small taste of Books@Work. Please grab a friend or colleague to read, share and discuss – and send us your thoughts.
Philip Levine was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1928 and was raised and educated in the city. After graduating from Wayne State University, Levine worked for both Chevrolet and Cadillac where he gathered material for his future poems. Levine went on to teach at Columbia, Princeton and the University of California at Berkeley. He was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States for 2011–2012.
As you read “What Work Is,” consider these questions:
- What does work mean to you?
- What gives our work significance?
- Would it be be worth doing a job you hate to make money for something you loved?
What Work Is
by Philip Levine
We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants.
Henri Martin, Work, 1914, [Public Domain] via Wikiart.org