Our bodies were born into hard labor. To people who Grandma Betty would say “never had to lift a finger,” that might sound like something to be pitied. But there was a beautiful efficiency to it—form in constant physical function with little energy left over. In some ways, I feel enriched rather than diminished for having lived it.
I know the strength of this body that helped hoist an air compressor into a truck, leveraged a sheet of drywall alone, carried buckets of feed against prairie wind. I know the quickness of my limbs that scaled a tall fence when a bull charged and that leapt when a ladder fell. But while I worked in those ways, like my mother and father I wrote poetry in my mind.
There’s an idea that laborers end up in their role because it’s all they’re suited for. What put us there, though, was birth, family history—not lack of talent for something else. “Blue-collar workers” have jobs requiring just as much brainpower as “white-collar professionals.” To run a family farm is to be a business owner in a complicated industry. But, unlike many jobs requiring smarts and creativity, working a farm summons the body’s intelligence, too.