934: Labor Theory of Value

934: Labor Theory of Value

934: Labor Theory of Value


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Often, when driving down a country road, I audibly gasp when it bends and opens to a field of wildflowers or prairie grass. If mountains are behind, off in the distance, performing their silhouetted theatrics of imposing stillness, whew! Forget about it. I am seeded with a modicum of peace. A momentary touch of the sacred. No thoughts of wars in foreign countries. No shaking my head at the dismantling of legal protections. No disparaging thoughts of self-worth. Just the stark-naked joy of encountering a wavering meadow whose beauty enters me entirely.

This is the sublime at work. And if I am sharing this journey with another passenger, I find that my exhilaration makes me vulnerable. Yet, that opens us up to each other, and this field of possibility, equally magnetic, its own force, brings us then ethically closer to each other, because of our eternal ambiguity — our shared dilemma of rampant strife in contrast with rampant beauty.

Poetry has a way of illuminating fields, of the known and the unknown. About his work, William Carlos Williams wrote “My life is a constant watching of the field.” Charles Olson, influenced by Williams, wrote that “We now enter, actually, the large area of the whole poem, into the FIELD, if you like, where all the syllables and all the lines must be managed in their relations to each other.” Thus the poem is where the poet tries to recreate their swirling reality in an ecosystem that mirrors it, yet, they are in control.

But what if the poet could relinquish control? To that, poet Mark Strand, in a key of Buddhist diminution, wrote: “In a field / I am the absence / of field.”

Today’s poet sees the field—or the writing of poetry—as a means of strengthening our bonds, our Platonic love. It’s a labor of seeing that transforms those fragmented moments, and unconnected objects in the world into an ever-expansive, idealized symbol of desire and understanding.

Labor Theory of Value
by Angie Sijun Lou

Like waking up elsewhere with a utopian longing, looking outward,

seeing the moon, nearly sunken, through the ashes of East Precinct.

So then the field vindicates us also, returns us to our roots sleeveless,

against ourselves. Like the dumpster fire that is a slivered beyond,

like the traffic signal, blinking white as light. Like the sword I could 

unsheathe for you, in another life and in this life, this life we’ve learned

to hypertrophy our love inside, only to say Comrade, I have no objectives.

Why constellate the field when the field was only a cipher for our absence?

Absence, I have filled with my involute beckoning, transmuting time

with that violet pulse. We order chow mein from a window on Harrison. 

Am I young to say Luxembourg. Am I young to say This could.

Where the siren fades to a vesper—The summer, how it. In the beginning,

in the field, in the mirror, we will bring all the right books on trips 

toward the sun. Until the slime of morning expels us, July’s heat

drying our ink against their blue, our faceless against their face.

“Labor Theory of Value” by Angie Sijun Lou. Used by permission of the poet.