James Scruton dedicates this poem about his own white-collar labors to the late Philip Levine, the poet who celebrated working-class people who spent their lives “digging or pounding…wrenching or drilling.”
James Scruton
November 2, 2015


By James Scruton

                                            In Memory of Philip Levine

I know enough of what work is
to know that I don’t do it,
nothing heavier than a book or two
for me to lift most days, no tool
but a pen to handle and even then
in just one hand, the other
laid against my cheek
or in a fist beneath my chin
as if keeping me from nodding off
while I write this.

It beats what our fathers had
to do, my friend reminds me
as we read each other’s “work,”
beats what fathers did before that,
the digging or pounding
or plowing, the herding, hoisting,
wrenching or drilling,
work they were proud of
even when it broke them,
work they may have hated.
Almost nothing I’ve been paid for
would be work to them,
hardly anything I’ve done
more than a labor—
if I can call it that—of love.

James Scruton is the chair of the Humanities Division at Bethel College in McKenzie, Tennessee, where he teaches poetry and British literature. He is the author of four collections of poetry, including the award-winning chapbooks Galileo's House (Finishing Line Press) and Exotics and Accidentals (Grayson Books). His poems and reviews appear frequently in The Comstock Review, Poet Lore, Poetry East, Southern Poetry Review, and other journals.

December 11, 2015