Stay Inside

caffe reggioThe other day, I read a poem whose beginning I didn’t quite like. But, it was weird enough to keep me hooked to its very last line, which made me laugh out loud and reread the poem several times, appreciating it more and more with each go.

The piece is by poet Paul Violi, who published eleven collections of poetry during his lifetime and continues to be published after his death. Violi received two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, nearly every important poetry grant in the U.S. and taught English at Columbia University. So, he knew what he was doing.

When he chose to begin the poem below with “We,” or when he decided to put the word “Grammarians” in its title, or when he rambled for a bit, he knew what he was doing.  He was winding up to deliver a wildly unexpected punchline.

It always feels good to laugh, especially if this laughter is the result of a carefully crafted poem.


Appeal to the Grammarians
We, the naturally hopeful,
Need a simple sign
For the myriad ways we’re capsized.
We who love precise language
Need a finer way to convey
Disappointment and perplexity.
For speechlessness and all its inflections,
For up-ended expectations,
For every time we’re ambushed
By trivial or stupefying irony,
For pure incredulity, we need
The inverted exclamation point.
For the dropped smile, the limp handshake,
For whoever has just unwrapped a dumb gift
Or taken the first sip of a flat beer,
Or felt love or pond ice
Give way underfoot, we deserve it.
We need it for the air pocket, the scratch shot,
The child whose ball doesn’t bounce back,
The flat tire at journey’s outset,
The odyssey that ends up in Weehawken.
But mainly because I need it – here and now
As I sit outside the Caffe Reggio
Staring at my espresso and cannoli
After this middle-aged couple
Came strolling by and he suddenly
Veered and sneezed all over my table
And she said to him, “See, that’s why
I don’t like to eat outside.”
Photo Credit: Joe Mabel, interior of the Caffe Reggio in New York City

– Ana Maria Caballero, Zeteo Contributing Writer

One comment

  1. Daniel D'Arezzo

    Thanks for sharing this poem. Wit gets short shrift in poetry today. There is much playfulness, but much of it seems to me arch and empty or logorrheic and dim. Wit used to be the raison d’etre of poetry, and maybe there was once an overabundance of it in English poetry, from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, which is why Wordsworth had to come along and restore feeling to poetry. This poem of Violi’s has both wit and feeling. He isn’t a poet I knew, but I will look him up.


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