Youngsters, this is honest work, but rough.
For thirty autumns I’ve labored in the pits.
I’ve known the clay in all its tempers:
slick or sticky,
pliant as putty or iron-hard,
gray or mottled or tinged with rust.
I have worn it like clothing,
worn it like skin.
With every stroke of the spade
I put food on my children’s table
and dainty china on the tables of the rich.
Bone china, they call it,
but do they know whose skeleton
was cracked and ground to powder
so they might see the shadow of a hand
Day after day we chop and heave
the ponderous clay,
pushing our bodies
beyond the endurance of bone.
The clay-shoveler’s fracture
was named for us,
and the day I felt my own upper dorsal snap,
I grit my teeth and kept on working.
Youngsters, not everyone is cut out
for the clay pits.
It’s rough work, but honest.
I salute all you
with a shovel in your hands,
and I raise my mug to the one
who will someday chisel
through turf and topsoil
and lay me down
in the thick damp stuff
of which I was made.
Jennifer Highland’s poetry has appeared in Watershed Review, Rappahannock Review, Cider Press Review, the anthologies Done Darkness and Chronicles of Eve, and elsewhere. She practices osteopathy in central New Hampshire, where she also enjoys digging in the (mercifully not clay) dirt of her vegetable garden and hiking the White Mountains.