Michele Madigan Somerville

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Elegy
for Paul Violi & After “Abundance”

In Fra Paolo’s great picture “Canal Street,” everything’s half
off. Nothing’s quite right, the gutters have been purged
of vagabond whizz, cigarette butts and squid viscera all power-
washed away by civil currents of sanitation. The self-identifying
stench and clamor as well have vanished in thin-
lipped air. Zooks! All of Chinatown emits the odoroma of
dashboard cologne. On every corner “round-eyes” abound,
pedestrians attend to business in orderly fashion, a pair of parallel
lines forms, clear-cut vectors in opposite directions.
In the betting parlors everyone looks lousy, bare-
chested, everyone’s lost, bookie and mark alike.
For Quotidien Splendor it was off to the Glue Factory,
but Detonated by Wonder and Buoyancy is Everything
escaped by the skin of their tombstone teeth,
cantered off leading a quadriga packed beyond capacity
with experts on exultation, ejaculation, gusto and whim.
They flew off the handle on
a graceful diagonal into the celestial bramble
by way of the Amboys .

In Fra Paolo’s great painting, the Edwardian Baroque style
of Ye Olde Cop Shoppe a block off over on Centre is now corrected,
thanks to laminates and paneling innovations within whose noble halls
law and order is now restored, whereby, around the clock, the cream
of the satirists, satyrs, compulsive motorists, ornery bards and reckless
sleepers share square footage in lockup with carbon allo-
trope thieves with headlights like cats. They slipped in
amid the shadows cast by glass at the corner Bowery and Canal.
There the twinkle toes cleaned out every last precious
rock, leaving velvet beds empty
and the weasels holding the bag:
a flannel sack of little shits,
and the flies who love them.

Overlaying the ruined scene is a drab patina, under which pall
the second law of thermodynamics reined in lies in repose.
The sector is quiet save a bruit blanc (the only sauce
or condiment of audibility permitted). It blurs
without character, scales, strings or line –- a waste of sound waves,
if you ask me, but you didn’t, so I’ll tell you now, to be sure
you know. The voices are grey too, their muddied pitch botched up
by the chalk of ash. Throng constituents amble
in tidy queues, and vehicles idle at the bridge, waiting
in the order in which they were received.

Within the area of Fra Paolo’s damaged canvas,
a guidatore della Domenica blocks the box
at the intersection of Lafayette and Canal.
Usually, only on Sundays does she maneuver
or fail to maneuver, but today she
hazards to lead the horn section
that forms a line to the rear. It’s all there
in the glass but she pays it no mind
as changing a mind built for comfort not for speed,
she weighs the risks and benefits
of making a left from the right-hand lane.
Someone oughta slap her but nobody knows when
to throw open his driver’s side door and show
the “motoroso nervosa” — the back of his hand.
No one knows when to throw the first punch
or whether, better still, to employ the superior measure
for settling a score –- No one thinks
to use the head as a blunt
means to do damage without leaving visible
contusions, O risible fiend!

In Fra Paolo’s great picture, Canal Street,
pursuant to a seduced conversion,
the Buddhist temple is now a Savings and Loan.
Instead of swans, whose mate-for-life dispositions render
their meat less than tender
it’s suckling doves on the menu.
Instead of “hurled salad,” a blue plate of something green
Fra Paolo tossed together himself
under the inspiration of a wench
bright as a new fender
to whom he surrendered
his attentions for whole hours at a time
sometimes not far from Canal Street
where the leechee nuts prickled
in sweetness mounts heaps and octopodi reached out
with Roman fingers near “Sons of Italy“ street —
But the asphalt is immaculate, now,
all transactions are legit, and nary an item
having fallen from moving vehicle is ever peddled or scored.
on Fra Paolo’s spoiled scenario, Canal Street.
The opium dens are shuttered. Instead of “happy endings,”
storefront massage parlors offer “conclusions
characterized by reasonable measures of contentment.”
There is valet parking for teamsters, and ballet parking
for l the girls who look like bears in toe shoes.
Outside Pearl Paint a young poet recites rhymed trochaic pentameter:
a tribute to his dead grandmother; he “entitles” it
“In the Grand (ma) Scheme of Things.”
The death was tragic. The poem reveals the epic love.

I am listening to the world when eyes are caught
and drawn over to Grand.  I take it upon myself
to locate a perch befitting a scribe, and a simple table
at which to sit, sketch, chronicle and unload
musings, quips and double spondees.  Sight-rhymes, nervy
puns and tropes come tumbling willy
nilly out of nowhere like dreaming puppies from a sack.
I grab a spot by the window at Elysian Fields Bar and Grill,
a non descript bôite like so many wherein Fra Paolo
and I sipped barwine in daylight now and then on occasion
through the years near a window a sun was falling
through. I clasp folded hands against my chin,
lean forward, rest both yet buoyant breasts upon the two-top
and ponder the woe at hand. I begin a poem entitled
“Is That An Epic in Your Pocket Or Are You Just Glad to See Me?”
But just as my nib embarks upon its cursive and discursive
trail across the cool pale flatness of sunlit sheets–
I get a load of this Paesan in a navy polo shirt and khakis,
rounding the corner at Lafayette. I can’t believe
my eyes! That chest-out gait, that purposeful puffed-out
semi-wandering saunter, that weathered leather
bundle of pulp tucked beneath a wood-chop-bicep,
how wisps snake up from the twist of his smoking lips,
the way his fingers hold the sky-
mounting chain that ascending pullulates ‘round
his heroic forelock head like a dirty halo–

I’d know Fra Paolo anywhere.
Something is eating him, not in a good way.
He surveys the scene. The smile is uneasy.
Something’s not right. It comes as no surprise
that Fra Paolo should have painted himself into a corner
of “Canal Street,” nor to see the artist’s specter
pissed by all he finds amiss, and it hardly comes
as a shock to witness as miffed persnickety Paolo delivers
a swift kick to the bricks of the edifice nearest
his foot, pursuant to which conspicuous hostility,
a conflagration of singing line and light ringing
sprout and spring into action.
The jump-start kick works like a charm.
The panorama’s jammed circuits open and run again with juice.
Pigment overrides pallor, strings drown out the din,
Resplundant reboundance ensues unfettered as
rabble Babel Canal Street, restored to its former luster,
begins to thrums anew, and Fra Paolo’s vehicle,
as ever, starts to run again like a dream.

April 4, 2011

Copyright Michele Madigan Somerville. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Michele Madigan Somerville is the author of two books of verse, Black Irish (Plain View Pressand WISEGAL (Ten Pell). Her work has appeared in The Nervous Breakdown, Hanging Loose, Mudfish, 6ix, Poetry Project Newsletter, Live Mag, Puerto del Sol and others. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times and the Harvard Divinity School Bulletin. Glamourous Life, a collection of poems, and The God Machine (essays on religion) will be published in 2015. Follow Somerville on twitter: @nypoet.

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