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Sweat of My Brow
Little girl with flying pigtail on bouncy tractor at playground

What value this? To what end these?

To sort, to scan, to type the keys,

To file, to phone, to read the mail,

To meet, to melt as air grows stale?

Were we not naked once, and wild?

Deeds and natures reconciled?

Did not our fathers' backs and hands

Raise up these walls, restore these lands?

Were I set free to tread the field—

Shirt off my back—and bravely wield

The scythe, the saw, the wheel, the plow,

Would I wish for...what I do now?

I sit; I sort; I think; I plan.

Do these things make me less a man?

Do strain, grit, struggle, sweat and toil,

To split the block and turn the soil,

Make me nobler, or just tired?

I need to know—I've just been fired.

Little girl with flying pigtail on bouncy tractor at playground
00:00 / 01:04

Click here for the "ellipsis" EP
Sweat of My Brow

I was honored in 2002 when this poem, entered into a contest in New York City for poems to be posted in NYC subway cars, was selected by the poetry editor of the New Yorker magazine to be read on National Public Radio. She was also a judge for that contest. Alas, in the end I think it was a line or two too long to fit the spot on the subway—and the New Yorker was not interested (probably because it is not obscure enough).

©1996 Squeaky Toy Music / Adam M. Steinberg - All Rights Reserved

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