Fall 1989 • Vol. XI No. 4 PoetryOctober 1, 1989 |

Toil

rhymes with soil. The craftsman Snedjem and his wife are—in the painting at Deir el-Medina—workingthe land. A lower register shows them plowing (toil also half-rhymes till) with the typical horn-yoked spotted heifers of Egyptian mural art. And in an upper band the scythe he holds he holds two-handed; filament-like stalks in its curve are caught so fine and straight, the look is of Snedjem learning the harp. And it's true: while this is labor ankle-caked in earth, it isn't Earth. Its lineation may be loyal to Earth in a vague way, but this is a tomb painting, and these Snedjem figures labor in the afterlife, the "Fields of Yalu" —eternal corn, and its eternal requirements. "May I be able in the tomb to eat, drink, plough, and reap"—the Book of the Dead. So toil is our conduit; and even without a credible Heaven, the buried work their dirt. Tell that to Degas' laundress, all the air gone blearily sfumato with the feel of her own late-hour weariness leaking steamily out whi

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Albert Goldbarth has been publishing collections of poetry for over four decades, two of which two have received the National Book Critics Circle Award. His latest, Selfish, was published by Graywolf Press in May 2015. He tests his patience by living in Wichita, Kansas.

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rhymes with soil. The craftsman Snedjem and his wife are—in the painting at Deir el-Medina—workingthe land. A lower register shows them plowing (toil also half-rhymes till) with the typical horn-yoked […]

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