Paul Violi


In Breughel's great picture Canal Street,
restaurant customers order roast swan
instead of chicken, hurled salad
instead of tossed salad, while shoppers
spill through a maze of stalled trucks
and scurry around the sidewalk stalls
jammed with countless nameless things
the housewives sidestep
to surround a Japanese man
in a broad-brim hat and painted silk tie
as he demonstrates how one gadget
can cut food fifty different ways
and though they don't understand a word
he says, they stand transfixed by his spiel
amid the fumes and noise and loud fruit vendors
dropping casual perfections of sun and rain
into bags and sacks against a backdrop
of silver towers and sea and fields
vibrant with excess that giddy farmers hail
by tossing animals, large animals,
into the air to be carried away
on the winds of exuberance
where the romping gods
bear so many attributes
they're a bundle of incongruities
and no one takes them seriously
not even their beaming angels
who parachute drunkenly down to the shore
distracting the dogs let loose on cormorants
that ate so much they can't fly
but not the boys in the rowboat
who have caught a blowfish,
tickled its belly until it's about to burst
like a balloon before dropping it overboard
to watch it blow itself backward to kingdom come,
nor the other children who have stopped
clamoring over the stranded whale's back
to swim out underwater, under the swans,
grab them by the legs and yank them down
in a slow fury of bubbles and light
and then sell them to the market
near the restaurant in the foreground
of Breughel's great picture Canal Street.

Paul Violi, Selected Poems 1970-2007, Rebel Arts, 2014.