American Muse: Paul Violi


“Extenuating Circumstances”

I don’t know how fast I was going
but, even so, that’s still
an intriguing question, officer,
and deserves a thoughtful response.
With the radio unfurling
Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, you might
consider anything under 80 sacrilege.
Particularly on a parkway as lovely
as the one you’re fortunate enough
to patrol—and patrol so diligently.
A loveliness that, if observed
at an appropriate rate of speed,
affords the kind of pleasure
which is in itself a reminder
of how civilization depends
on an assurance of order and measure,
and the devotion of someone
like yourself to help maintain it.
Yes, man the measurer!
The incorrigible measurer.
And admirably precise measurements
they are—Not, of course, as an end
in themselves but, lest we
forget, as a means to propel
us into the immeasurable,
where it would be anybody’s guess how fast
the west wind was blowing
when it strummed a rainbow
and gave birth to Eros.
Never forget that a parkway
is a work of art, and the faster
one goes the greater the tribute
to its power of inspiration,
a lyrical propulsion that approaches
the spiritual and tempts—demands
the more intrepid of us
to take it from there.
That sense of the illimitable,
when we feel we are more the glory
than the jest or riddle of the world
—that’s what kicked in, albeit
briefly, as I approached
the Croton Reservoir Bridge.
And on a night like this, starlight
reignited above a snowfall’s last
flurry, cockeyed headlights scanning
the girders overhead, eggshell
snowcrust flying off the hood,
hatching me on the wing
like a song breaking through prose,
the kind I usually sing
through my nose:

So much to love,
A bit less to scorn.
What have I done?
To what end was I born?

To teach and delight.
Delight … or offend.
Luck’s been no lady,
Truth a sneaky friend.

Got the heater on full blast,
Window jammed down,
Odometer busted,
Speedometer dead wrong:
Can’t tell how fast I’m going,
Don’t care how far I’ve gone.

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