Everyday Altruism

Wind carries certain smells through the air:
sometimes a whiff of anise, smoky peat;

phosphorus, chocolate, wet dog. Driving
through the town closest to a poultry

processing plant, we held our breath
from the odors of dead or dying flesh.

How do they stand it, you asked, referring
to all the people who must be employed there,

cutting and dressing and packing parts.
They must hold masses of quivering pink

in their hands and lay them out in a certain
order: 12 to a tray, or 10, or 6; then vacuum-

seal them in casings of styrofoam and plastic.
There are certain things we don’t want to do

but that we’ll do anyway, because they
will matter to others. Some go deep

into the earth bearing no other hope
than a canary. Others go deeper still

to sacrifice who they might have been if not
for their desire to provide for others.

And the ocean is boundless, as the sky
is boundless; and we name them ocean

and sky though we don’t know which
secret name they would rather answer to.

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Up and to the office, where all the forenoon, and then (by Mr. Coventry’s coach) to the ‘Change, and so home to dinner, very pleasant with my poor wife. Somebody from Portsmouth, I know not who, has this day sent me a Runlett of Tent. So to my office all the afternoon, where much business till late at night, and so home to my wife, and then to supper and to bed.
This day Sir G. Carteret did tell us at the table, that the Navy (excepting what is due to the Yards upon the quarter now going on, and what few bills he hath not heard of) is quite out of debt; which is extraordinary good newes, and upon the ‘Change to hear how our creditt goes as good as any merchant’s upon the ‘Change is a joyfull thing to consider, which God continue! I am sure the King will have the benefit of it, as well as we some peace and creditt.

some mouth has run
all night and day

what ills not heard of
which extraordinary news as good
as any peace

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 3 December 1663.


My wife troubled all last night with the toothache and this morning.
I up and to my office, where busy, and so home to dinner with my wife, who is better of her tooth than she was, and in the afternoon by agreement called on by Mr. Bland, and with him to the Ship a neighbour tavern and there met his antagonist Mr. Custos and his referee Mr. Clarke a merchant also, and begun the dispute about the freight of a ship hired by Mr. Bland to carry provisions to Tangier, and the freight is now demanded, whereas he says that the goods were some spoiled, some not delivered, and upon the whole demands 1300l. of the other, and their minds are both so high, their demands so distant, and their words so many and hot against one another that I fear we shall bring it to nothing. But however I am glad to see myself so capable of understanding the business as I find I do, and shall endeavour to do Mr. Bland all the just service I can therein.
Here we were in a bad room, which vexed me most, but we meet at another house next. So at noon I home and to my office till 9 o’clock, and so home to my wife to keep her company, arithmetique, then to supper, and to bed, she being well of her tooth again.

night tooth
bland antagonist of visions
and their distant words

I fear it as I do all
bad company

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 2 December 1663.


“To me, the universe is simply a great machine which never came into being and never will end.” ~ Nikola Tesla

There you are, prone in a white-sheeted bed
that faces a window. But where did you go

when the breath slipped momentarily
out of you, when your heart stalled

then startled and flew like a bird
into the limbs of a tree we could not see?

At one end of the lake, the skeleton of a wheel
traces the shape of a circle, its tangents

creaking in the wind. On the other end,
the roof of the planetarium slides open

so from our seats we can crane our necks
toward the sky. Between two points

of a pendulum swing lies a great
unfathomable silence with no allegiance

to either joy or sorrow; and the weight
of a silver-tipped censer, where smoke

and the body’s burning coals decrypt
the ticking of ancient stars.


Up and to the office, where we sat all the morning. At noon I home to dinner with my poor wife, with whom now-a-days I enjoy great pleasure in her company and learning of Arithmetique.
After dinner I to Guild Hall to hear a tryall at King’s Bench, before Lord Chief Justice Hide, about the insurance of a ship, the same I mention in my yesterday’s journall, where everything was proved how money was so taken up upon bottomary and insurance, and the ship left by the master and seamen upon rocks, where, when the sea fell at the ebb, she must perish. The master was offered helpe, and he did give the pilotts 20 sols to drink to bid them go about their business, saying that the rocks were old, but his ship was new, and that she was repaired for 6l. and less all the damage that she received, and is now brought by one, sent for on purpose by the insurers, into the Thames, with her cargo, vessels of tallow daubed over with butter, instead of all butter, the whole not worth above 500l., ship and all, and they had took up, as appeared, above 2,400l.. He had given his men money to content them; and yet, for all this, he did bring some of them to swear that it was very stormy weather, and [they] did all they could to save her, and that she was seven feete deep water in hold, and were fain to cut her main and foremast, that the master was the last man that went out, and they were fain to force [him] out when she was ready to sink; and her rudder broke off, and she was drawn into the harbour after they were gone, as wrecke all broken, and goods lost: that she could not be carried out again without new building, and many other things so contrary as is not imaginable more. There was all the great counsel in the kingdom in the cause; but after one witnesse or two for the plaintiff, it was cried down as a most notorious cheate; and so the jury, without going out, found it for the plaintiff. But it was pleasant to see what mad sort of testimonys the seamen did give, and could not be got to speak in order: and then their terms such as the judge could not understand; and to hear how sillily the Counsel and judge would speak as to the terms necessary in the matter, would make one laugh: and above all, a Frenchman that was forced to speak in French, and took an English oathe he did not understand, and had an interpreter sworn to tell us what he said, which was the best testimony of all. So home well satisfied with this afternoon’s work, purposing to spend an afternoon or two every term so, and so to my office a while and then home to supper, arithmetique with my wife, and to bed.
I heard other causes, and saw the course of pleading by being at this trial, and heard and learnt two things: one is that every man has a right of passage in, but not a title to, any highway. The next, that the judge would not suffer Mr. Crow, who hath fined for Alderman, to be called so, but only Mister, and did eight or nine times fret at it, and stop every man that called him so.

it was the sea not a ship
that was lost

a thing as imaginable as a great plain
going out

what mad sort of testimonies
the seamen give

forced to work on a highway
that would only stop

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 1 December 1663.