They spent the day erasing texts, Confucius and Tolstoy in the morning,
Austen and Aristotle in the afternoon, bearing down on the dense,
stubbornly etched letters until their wrists and elbows ached and a
rubbery pink dust coated the factory floor. Though an overlooked word
could be glimpsed among the bruised and roughened pages like a
swimmer drawn far out to sea, it carried no more import than a black
smudge on a laborer’s knuckle. Incomplete erasures were discouraged,
but the watchful foremen often ignored small oversights, believing that
the remnants only served to enforce the insignificance of the past,
marked the eventual disappearance of everything except the work at
hand: the wracking of the body toward no end but struggle for its own
sake, struggle that would persist as long as lungs and muscle. At dusk the
workers were released, sent out through knotted, unnamed streets to
their cramped bedrooms and greasy kitchenettes, unable to remember
what random word they might have left untouched, what it might have
meant or why it had been written.



"I think 'Piecework' developed almost unconsciously from my memories of working in a sponge rubber factory, combined with various readings dealing with the idea of literary erasure. It expresses, I think, a sense that our connection to the past, to the nature of meaning itself, is receding as our lives grow ever more distracted by the immediacies of virtual culture." 

Fred Muratori's poems and prose poems appear in Boston Review, The Iowa Review, Hotel Amerika, NANO Fiction, Sentence, Plume, and others. He is the author of three poetry collections, the latest being A Civilization, recently issued by Dos Madres Press. He lives in Ithaca, NY.