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I am sitting here, Diderot, with your
books before me, your encyclopedia
of “Trades and Industry” in two volumes,
now withdrawn from my school library,
two beacons grown dim from shining
wisdom into a dark world, these many
advances of the rational mind, this
knowledge cast to the four winds, this
effort to confer dignity on those
who worked, to show the world
plate-by-plate how it was done,
and how it might continue, so minutely
documented in your vast compendium of
human labor: the spar-making, the forging of
anchors, the charcoal burning, the silk
throwing, the tapestry weaving, the printing,
the paper marbling, the gilding, and on
and on, as I turn the pages

wondering if you would be
surprised to learn how much is gone,
swept away along with the broom-makers,
the casemakers, the powdermakers,
the soapmakers, that your volumes
can never be updated because  
no trade or tradesman can pose
long enough for the engraver to make
an engraving, even the clockmaker
baffled to see his fine timepiece
running amuck, hours sprinting
into minutes, and minutes into
tenths of seconds, labor perplexed,
fathers and mothers with nothing to
pass on except paper pushing
and their own confusion, the
grand parade of humanity reeling,
vertigo our one faithful companion,
as we hold on, barely.

April 13, 2008

All written material © Bill Schechter, 2016
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