For It Feels Like February 29th or 30th

Paul Violi

For we were made to reach for things.
For imagination extends life.
For our reach must exceed our grasp.
For in confinement imagination thrives.
For the Book of the Month Club selection
Has finally arrived.
For it is The Life of Jeffrey Hudson.
For it is a February Classic.
For a wondrous life he made.
For he flourished in confinement.
For he was a champion who scoffed at restriction.

For at age nine, though scarcely 18 inches tall,
He was gracefully proportioned.
For he was a page to Duke Edward.
For at a banquet he leaped out of a pie
Placed before Queen Henrietta Maria.
For she adopted him on the spot.

For he was made captain of cavalry.
For he was called Strenuous Jeffrey.
For he was tireless and heroic.
For firing from horseback
He killed his opponent in a duel.

For he was captured by Dunkirkers and imprisoned.
For upon his release
He was found to have grown taller.

For he was captured and imprisoned by Turkish pirates.
For by the time he was freed he had grown a foot taller.

For after the Restoration he was pensioned.
For as an accused conspirator in the Popish Plot
He was again imprisoned and again released.
For shortly thereafter he died
At the age of 63 at the height of 3 foot 9.




Paul Violi

On 8th Street this afternoon I stopped in a shop that served wonton soup for 50 cents a bowl. Make that two fried pork buns as well, please. When I stepped out I and everyone else looked up and began to scan the lovely spring day to find out who was screaming.

Prolonged, painful screams. The scene came together across the street. A Chinese kid was being attacked by five or six other slim, neat, well-scrubbed Chinese kids. Like him, they wore black leather jackets, white t-shirts, boots, dungarees. It didn’t seem serious at first. But it was. It was vicious. They had encircled him, clearing the sidewalk, and they were taking turns, charging in to kick or punch him. He looked like a practice dummy. He hardly attempted to ward off the attack, let alone defend himself. People closed into a crowd, helplessly cast as extras who were supposed to imitate a crowd that stands by helplessly. A few tried to intervene but backed off when they were stared down. I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was all an act, a bad act, that there was no sharp sense of urgency in the air and that the screamer was overacting. The tallest attacker had assumed the lead role, expertly delivering kicks and chops that, though powerful and convincing, failed to bring the dummy down. His accomplices struck the defiant teenage gang pose of low-budget fifties flicks. I blamed my detachment on monosodium glutamate.

For the first time, as the gang leader held on to him – or held him up, for the last blow, a whomping kick to the groin, had dropped him to his knees – the kid screamed intelligible words: “He’s got a gun!” As if on cue, the leader reached into his open jacket, not withdrawing the pistol tucked in his beltless Levis but displaying it as he strutted before the crowd. Was it up to the audience, what happened next? Would the outcome be determined by viewer preference?

The beaten kid, face wet with tears, raised a limp arm toward the gunslinger. “He’s going to kill me!” The rest of the gang followed the leader and reached into their jackets. The crowd on my side of the street dropped like a wave behind the parked cars, and then we slowly rose, but no higher than window level. The executioners began to scan the street. There wasn’t a sound. They exchanged looks, signals that they were pressing their luck. Or so I guessed, since that was what had occurred to me, the inevitable cliché: We’re on 8th Street! How could this go on so long? Where were the cops?

At the same time, a well-dressed white man, a bulky man in his fifties, a feather already stuck in the band of his felt hat, walked directly onto the set, right up to the leader, waving his hands, flapping his arms, as if to say, That’s a wrap, That’s all for today. The leader hardly glanced at him but began to walk off, still thoughtfully immersed in his role. With a few intense looks, the other tough guys agreed to disperse and did so, casually. People flowed by, talking normally, as if they’d never been interrupted, and the man, who had by this time helped the injured kid to his feet, was walking him down the side street, toward the park, an avuncular arm over his shoulder, like a director, full of praise but wanting to suggest one or two changes.


[From Paul Violi’s prose collection, ‘Selected Accidents, Pointless Anecdotes’, with the kind permission of the author.]