A Geologist Muses Upon Mud

You praise the mud you say
has been made useful, fashioned
into bricks to build dwellings
or baked to make pitchers
for water and wine, the mud
that leaves remnants
of real work done well

You distinguish that mud
from this mud—-this mud you say
you’re stuck mucking around in,
unable to make meaning from
as you plan and work then
re-plan and re-work, never
doing enough

You must not know this mud
coheres the continent

on which you stand, and
collaborates with plants
to stop riverbanks
washing out to sea

You must not know of
small squiggly things that
muck in this mud cycling
oxygen and nutrients,
or have seen hippo and rhino
and elephant bathe in this mud
to keep the hot sun
from their skin

You must not remember

the real work of small children
who know that though mud pies are
not made to be eaten, they’re
essential to life

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

“The work of the world is common as mud,” wrote poet Marge Piercy. This physician was reflecting on Piercy’s poem as well as other writings about meaning in life to help him make sense of the past year. Because of the pandemic, he had to adapt quickly to the changing landscape of medical education. He mentioned losses from those adaptations, particularly the changes in his interactions with students and the students’ interactions with each other. Sometimes, he questioned whether he was doing enough or even whether he was doing his job at all. At the same time, he had been involved with engaging medical students in the arts and humanities in creative ways. He also felt grateful about the adaptations he made in his personal life such as his ability to spend more time with his family and finding new ways to spend time in nature.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Yvette Perry

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