Celebrate the Life and Work of Paul Violi by Robert Hershon and Paul Violi (part 10)

Paul Violi

by Paul Violi

Now I’ll never be able to finish that poem to Bob
that takes off of a poem by Bob
where he’s looking out the Print Center window
at a man in a chicken suit
handing out flyers on Houston Street.
Mine has Plato saying man is a featherless biped
and Aristophanes slamming a plucked chicken
on the table and declaring the definition apt but flawed
and it ends with Francis Bacon
dedicated empiricist
experimenting with frozen food
stopping his carriage in a snowstorm
and hopping out to stuff a chicken with snow.
It worked but Bacon got pneumonia and died.
Without making a pub about bringing home the bacon
the poem closes on Bob saving Bacon’s life
with chicken soup. It would have been a long poem
and it would have made a lot of sense
and shown why I believe Bob Hershon is a wise man.

Reprinted from THE TAME MAGPIE (c) 2014 by Ann Violi, by permission of Hanging Loose Press.
by Robert Hershon

A man in a chicken suit
stands at the subway exit
handing out flyers and loudly
proclaiming the virtues of
honey-fried wings or money-
back onion rings
It’s hard to understand him
through the plastic beak and
what does a man in a chicken suit
really have to say to you anyway
This assumes it’s always the same
man inside the chicken suit but
it might be a new guy every day
unless he is dedicated to this form
a career bin a chicken suit
And I have been watching him
from the third floor window
for half an hour now
which may indicate the level
of my own ambition this morning
The eagle suit lies on a chair
waiting for a smart breeze

Reprinted from CALLS FROM THE OUTSIDE WORLD (2006) by Robert Hershon, by permission of Hanging Loose Press.


The German Lunatic
by Robert Hershon

For Paul Violi

Otto Leuben, the German lunatic, bet that he could turn up a pack
of cards in a certain order.  He turned the cards 10 hours a day
for 20 years, exactly 4,246,028 times, before he succeeded.  -Robert Ripley

I don’t believe it.  Of course I’d like to believe it
but I’m tired of being amazed.  Analysis before amazement,
that’s my knotty-pine wall motto, forensics before faith
And yet

In Martha’s summer house we wander naked and lumpy among
the damp books left by mysterious old children.  The swans
on the pond are fully mechanized and the ospreys are painted
on the backdrop, but the illusion of ease is complete.  Everyone
should have sex on a table sticky with jam from time to time.
Roger Henstooth, the New York herald, seen standing by the sea,
the undertow sucking the sand from beneath his heels, stood at
another point on the shore of the same ocean, staring yearningly
at the horizon,  fifty years later.  He was larger – and older!

Otto Leuben is just weeks into his task.  His confidence level is high,
his air jaunty.  What does he do the other fourteen hours, after the
deck has grown sticky?  Does the national economy reflect his diligence?
Do other lunatics emulate him?  Ethnic Germans in Poland?  Ethnic Poles
in Hungary? Turkish laborers in Silesia?  If we could get an additional
ten card-minutes per man, Mr. Minister, we could rule the world.
Ten minutes, just think of it.

Professor Scribner, the oral historian, swallowed a set of
pearl buttons every morning for forty years and was used
as ballast on The Good Ship Lollipop.  Oysters
in the brackish waters grow more and more agitated.

And have we heard from Leuben today or any of his people?
He was three cards from success last Thursday when an errant breeze
played him  mischief!  He shuffled without complaint, according to
reports.  Was he using the Delta Flies Florida deck or the
one with doggies – here the message breaks off.

Earnest Gerund, the Delaware divine, was stranded in the high church
for twenty years and survived on martini sandwiches.  He remained of
good cheer, but no one can sing in that key.

And what, if I may ask, is the certain order?

Ducky Lowery had the world’s largest collection of syllables, but
he kept them in a gym bag and he put the gym bag in the Buick
and he drove the Buick to Pennsylvania and he misplaced the Keystone
State and that’s how Paramus New Jersey became a Great Lakes port.

What is the certain order?  I’ll take one guess and the gods will
reward my modesty: A23574 of spades, QKJ of hearts, I mean clubs,
I mean cups – He turns away.  was there a slight smile in his lunatic
eyes?  Was I even close?  He shuffles.

Giuseppe Di Maio of Naples was born with two hearts
and Alfred Langeven of Detroit could blow out a
candle with his eyes and Margaret Guest, age three years,
earned a degree in music from Baker University
and the great sloth of Ecuador and a Chinese sage
and the Portuguese navy – the townspeople have seen
the foreign women with their jam-smeared faces.  The alienist
will permit no intruders.  Still they come, leaving their jars
by the front door – guava, quince, blackberry and robin.

Who is monitoring Leuben – ten hours a day, what were the stakes?
Was it a casual moment, a joking bet over coffee?  Was Leuben
already a lunatic or did he become a lunatic only after succumbing
to the temptation to win the wager?  How did he win the celebrity
that enabled him to be known as the German lunatic?  Were there others
of national scope?  Were they a measurable percentage of the population?
Did they have a league a church an agent a slogan
a jersey a turf a tattoo a kind of
funny way of walking when the moon is shining merry on the bay?

(Put your elbow down once, it will find jam on the table.
Put it down again and again and a pattern will form.)

Every day like every other day, the perfect order, the inviolable routine –
but is there something in the air this morning?  Or did we imagine it later
while regaling the townspeople?  Leuben to his table at his usual 7:44,
breakfast from the Acey Deucey Café.  He pisses on the wood stove, howls
like a hound and puts on his mittens and his motorman’s cap.  He shuffles twice.
He lays out the first six cards – vertically, it being spring – and
the gods explode in laughter.  An exchange of glances between the lunatic, his
scorekeeper, his oddsmaker, his chronicler, his housekeeper, his purseholder,
his devoted opponent.  Six more cards, fresh jam, a pattern of steps.

You msay not share the triumph, only the aftermath – the Prussian
celebrations and the analysis by experts, many of them
retired madmen.  If a lunatic believes himself to be Otto von Bismarck
and it develops that he is Otto von Bismarck, is that not a cure
(and the French are in a jam.) If the laying out of cards is
not merely incidental to this lunacy but central to it,
then the achievement proclaims recovery and
what say you now townspeople and handicappers?

So Leuben the citizen strolling on the strasse, shaven and bathed,
clear of eye and nostril, a swan tattoo on his cheek,
a portrait on  his lapel, schoolchildren romping in the traffic jam,
the mayor’s wife climbing to the town clock, the street musicians chewing
on their sparrows, the very grass braided with red ribbon and
Leuben pauses and smiles and scratches and whispers: I did it.
I could do it again.


Robert Hershon’s 14th book of poetry, Freeze Frame, is forthcoming from Pressed Wafer. His most recent books are Goldfish and Rose and Calls from the Outside World.  He has won two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and three from the New York Foundation for the Arts. His poems have appeared in many magazines and he has also written for the Best American Poetry and Poetry Foundation websites.  Hershon has been co-editor of Hanging Loose Press for 48 years.  Hanging Loose had the pleasure of publishing five books by Paul Violi.

For part 9 click here, for part 8 please click here, for part 7 click here, part 6 click here, for part 5 click here, for part 4 click here, for part 3 click here, for part 2 click here, for the introduction and part 1 click here.