I know what work is. When I was a girl in South Dakota, I babysat, de-tasseled corn, and whacked weeds in bean fields. During college, I worked in a lab sterilizing pipets, made meals and cleaned for a dining club, and counseled kids at the Palo Alto Society for the Blind. After college, I moved to Minnesota and hired out as a typist with Manpower until I found work teaching poetry with prison programs, Poet-in-the-Schools, and The Loft Literary Center. I’ve made my way—a useful, satisfying way—almost always as an independent contractor, a proud member of what Daniel Pink calls the Free Agent Nation. MargaretHasse.com
Labor Day Weekend
The city is quiet, its streets empty
as if it’s tired of being busy.
I quit my job
belaboring a piece of writing
to stand drip-drying
after a slow swim in Lake Nokomis—
Waters of the Healing Spirit.
Late summer sun pets
my shoulders, my back.
Even the dog doesn’t work on her bone.
She lies on the beach
too lazy to flick a fly.
They labor along the straight lines
of parallel rows, the farm boy, the town girl
earning an hourly wage for her college fund,
weeding, staying even with each other,
loving like crazy each other’s smell.
He has the slight acrid burn of green leaves.
She, catmint—residue of shampoo—
her hair streaked shades of brown
like the fizzy tassels at the top of corn.
His Tom body yowls in the backyard
of his brain that he wants that minty weed.
She longs for the end of the row
when they will sit in the bed of a dirty truck
against warm rubber tires and drink
lemonade with tongues so keen
you could map the exact spot where
the sugar of desire does its dream business,
where the lemon pulp—call it
her education plan, his religious training—
persists in its tart denial.
A bean in its ripe casing hangs on a stem,
three fuzzy lumps in its throat. One for the boy,
one for the girl, and one for how the hinge
of what might happen to us swings slightly,
opening here, closing there.
-first appeared in Earth’s Appetite
Clean Up Day
Cars blow by like banshees,
drivers wailing on their horns.
It’s not as if we crew workers
might drop our heavy gloves,
lime green pinnies,
Grip ‘n Grab devices
and shoulder bags to dash
onto the tarmac
like frightened deer.
Are the honkers litterbugs
who toss their cig butts
to taunt us as we walk
and stoop in the curve of ditches
poking and picking up
plastic bottles, broken glass
glinting in the sunshine,
paper wet with dew?
Or do they mean to hail us
for sweeping through
tall brush and short weeds,
removing taint, restoring order
step by slow step
along Highway 371?
At regular intervals
we leave on the shoulder
evidence of our labor—
full white garage bags
looking like grounded clouds.
A line spirals around the room
then forks at the banquet table
where eggrolls are stacked
like Lincoln Logs
and tiny hot dogs swim in pans
heated by Sterno pots.
Teachers only. Two drink tickets
and free food for all
the brand-new teachers,
the laid-off, the experienced,
the middle-aged, the tired,
the ones who left years ago.
My husband wears a carnation
and a name badge.
Some come to wish him well,
say they want it to be
their time to receive
a crystal sailboat in a box.
Soon they, too, will pack up,
leave behind classrooms full
of desks growing smaller.
They will place the children—
upgraded and arriving each fall
like a bumper crop—
into the hands of someone else.
©2015 Margaret Hasse