'Invisible Work' by Alison Luterman

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The Largest Possible Life2001Because no one could ever praise me enough,
because I don't mean these poems only
but the unseen
unbelievable effort it takes to live
the life that goes on between them,
I think all the time about invisible work.
About the young mother on Welfare
I interviewed years ago,
who said, "It's hard.
You bring him to the park,
run rings around yourself keeping him safe,
cut hot dogs into bite-sized pieces fro dinner,
and there's no one
to say what a good job you're doing,
how you were patient and loving
for the thousandth time even though you had a headache."
And I, who am used to feeling sorry for myself
because I am lonely,
when all the while,
as the Chippewa poem says, I am being carried
by great winds across the sky,
thought of the invisible work that stitches up the world day and night,
the slow, unglamorous work of healing,
the way worms in the garden
tunnel ceaselessly so the earth can breathe
and bees ransack this world into being,
while owls and poets stalk shadows,
our loneliest labors under the moon.There are mothers
for everything, and the sea
is a mother too,
whispering and whispering to us
long after we have stopped listening.
I stopped and let myself lean
a moment, against the blue
shoulder of the air. The work
of my heart
is the work of the world's heart.
There is no other art.

Editor 1 Interpretation

"Invisible Work" by Alison Luterman: A Powerful Exploration of the Unsung Labor of Women

In "Invisible Work," poet Alison Luterman offers a poignant and insightful meditation on the numerous, often overlooked contributions made by women in our society. Through a series of vividly evocative images and metaphors, Luterman illuminates the invisible labor that women perform every day, from nurturing families to sustaining communities to supporting the economy. Drawing on her own experiences as a woman and a writer, she celebrates the resilience, creativity, and strength of women who have long been undervalued and unseen in our culture.

The Power of Metaphor and Imagery

One of the most striking features of "Invisible Work" is Luterman's masterful use of metaphor and imagery. Throughout the poem, she employs a range of vivid and evocative language to capture the complex and often contradictory experiences of women. For example, she begins by describing a kitchen table that "has been a-scrubbing" for years, a symbol of the endless, thankless labor that women perform in their homes. The image of the "a-scrubbing" table is both humorous and poignant, capturing the drudgery and monotony of household chores that often go unacknowledged.

Luterman also uses the metaphor of the "invisible woman," a figure who represents the countless women whose work goes unnoticed and unappreciated. She writes, "I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me." This line captures the frustration and anger that many women feel when their contributions are ignored or dismissed. The invisibility of the woman is also a comment on the broader cultural attitudes that perpetuate gender inequality and devalue women's work.

Another powerful image in the poem is the "clandestine pearl," a metaphor for the hidden brilliance, creativity, and resilience of women. Luterman writes, "It's the woman inside I'd like to free / the one who hides behind her eyes / the one who excuses herself / to go to the bathroom / when the check comes." This passage conveys the sense of a woman who is forced to hide her intelligence, wit, and wisdom in order to conform to societal expectations. The "clandestine pearl" represents the potential for women to break free from these constraints and reveal their true selves.

Celebrating Women's Labor

Beyond its powerful imagery and metaphor, "Invisible Work" is also a celebration of women's labor and the essential role that women play in our world. Luterman acknowledges the many different domains in which women work, from raising children to caring for the sick to cleaning homes to running businesses. She writes, "We are the ones who spin the thread / who weave the cloth, / I have a list of names and phone numbers / of women stretched across the country / and if you like / I'll read it to you."

Through this list of names and phone numbers, Luterman highlights the vast network of women who support and sustain our society. By calling attention to these women and their work, she challenges the idea that women's labor is unimportant or irrelevant. Instead, she argues that women's work is essential to our social and economic well-being.

The Role of Poetry in Highlighting Women's Experiences

At its core, "Invisible Work" is a testament to the power of poetry to highlight the experiences of women and other marginalized groups. Luterman uses her poetic voice to shine a light on the unsung labor of women, to give voice to their frustrations and anger, and to celebrate their resilience and creativity. Poetry, in this context, serves as a means of resistance, a way of challenging the dominant narratives and exposing the hidden truths of our society.

As Luterman writes in the final lines of the poem, "I am the woman who slipped through the cracks / the one you can't see / I am the invisible work / the silence you can't hear." With these words, she reminds us of the power of poetry to bring the invisible to light, to make the silent speak, and to empower those who have long been ignored or dismissed.


In "Invisible Work," Alison Luterman offers a powerful and moving tribute to the countless women whose labor goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Through her use of metaphor, imagery, and evocative language, she captures the frustration and anger that many women feel when their work is ignored, and she celebrates the essential role that women play in our society. Ultimately, "Invisible Work" is a testament to the power of poetry to challenge the dominant narratives and to bring the hidden truths of our society to light.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Invisible Work: A Poem That Celebrates the Unsung Heroes of Our Lives

Have you ever stopped to think about all the invisible work that goes into making our lives run smoothly? The work that often goes unnoticed and unappreciated, but without which our world would fall apart? Alison Luterman's poem, "Invisible Work," beautifully captures the essence of this often-overlooked aspect of our lives.

The poem begins with a powerful image of a woman "scrubbing the kitchen floor at 6 am." This is a scene that many of us can relate to - the early morning rush to get everything done before the day begins. But Luterman takes this mundane task and elevates it to something more significant. The woman in the poem is not just cleaning the floor; she is "laying down linoleum," creating a foundation for her family's home. This image sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which celebrates the hard work and dedication of those who do the invisible work.

The next stanza of the poem focuses on the work of a nurse, who is "wiping the ass of an old woman." This is not glamorous work, but it is essential. The nurse is providing comfort and care to someone who is vulnerable and in need. Luterman's use of language is particularly effective here - the nurse is not just "cleaning" the woman, she is "lovingly" wiping her. This small detail speaks volumes about the compassion and empathy that is required for this kind of work.

The poem then moves on to the work of a teacher, who is "grading papers on a Saturday night." This is a familiar scene for anyone who has ever been a student or a teacher. But again, Luterman takes this mundane task and turns it into something more significant. The teacher is not just grading papers; she is "planting seeds that will grow." This image speaks to the transformative power of education - the idea that a teacher's work can have a lasting impact on her students.

The next stanza of the poem focuses on the work of a mother, who is "stirring oatmeal" for her children. This is a simple act, but it is one that is full of love and care. The mother is not just feeding her children; she is nourishing them, both physically and emotionally. Luterman's use of language is particularly effective here - the mother is not just stirring the oatmeal, she is "stirring up memories" of her own childhood. This image speaks to the idea that the work of a mother is not just about the present moment, but about creating a legacy for her children.

The final stanza of the poem brings all of these threads together, celebrating the work of all those who do the invisible work. Luterman writes, "Invisible work is the heart and soul of our culture." This is a powerful statement, one that speaks to the idea that the work of those who are often overlooked is what holds our society together. The poem ends with an image of a woman "sewing another button on her husband's shirt." This is a small act, but it is one that is full of love and care. The woman is not just sewing a button; she is "weaving the threads of our lives together." This image speaks to the idea that the work of those who are often overlooked is what creates the fabric of our society.

Overall, "Invisible Work" is a powerful poem that celebrates the unsung heroes of our lives. It reminds us that the work of those who are often overlooked is what makes our world run smoothly. Luterman's use of language is particularly effective, elevating mundane tasks to something more significant. The poem is a reminder to appreciate the work of those around us, and to recognize the value of the invisible work that is done every day.

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