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The Violence of the Violins

It was in them, they would say.
It was what they were, what they
did. It was part of them, carved
into them like an F hole, like
a clef tattooed onto a biceps.
And there was nothing you
could say or do to change that.
It was their way. It was the way
of the world, and also of the sun
exploding a million miles away,
warming your soft cheek. Face
the music, they would say. Stop
listening with your eyes closed.
See the string tightened almost
to breaking, the bow torturing it
into song. Feel the skin stretched
over the drum so tightly it makes
your heart pound. And where
did you think it all came from,
the easy melody, the high tinkling
finery? We are hurt into beauty.
And you, up in the balcony, rising
to your feet, applauding fiercely, look
down at what your own hands are doing.


Concentration Camps

The way I explained it to myself, the way
I made sense of it in my own way (I was eight
when I first learned about them), was all those people
starving and crying and dying together in those big
piles behind the barbed wire—were forced to concentrate
on suffering. So it made sense to call it that. That part
made sense, I thought, because concentration was very
difficult. And I hated having to do it myself
in elementary school when the teacher caught us
looking out the window at the trees, or the sky, or the rooftops
of the houses across the street—when she caught us looking
out at life—and forced us cruelly back to the problem
under our noses, the problem of the numbers, the problem
that wasn’t going away no matter how much we
looked away from it. And those people, I thought, they must have
tried to look away from it too. They must have groaned
and looked away, and there must have been sky
above them, and trees on the other side, and maybe even a red
rooftop or two off in the distance where life was going on
in rooms with clean white linen and tinkling forks and knives…
The way you make sense of a problem like that, a solution like that,
a number like that, a number that’s so big you can’t fit it
in your head, can’t fit it in the world—though the world keeps trying
that solution, over and over—is to break it down, like the teacher said,
and keep breaking it down until you get to the smallest parts,
the ones divisible only by themselves and one: sky, tree, house,
one little boy. Then look out the window at the world again,
and see if it looks any different.



We took it out back
and we beat the stuffing out of it,
then we stuffed it, broken, into the back
of the car, and dumped its mutilated body at the dump.
It felt good to do this. After all, the cat had peed on it twice,
and the mortgage company had sent another threatening letter,
and we felt like kicking the shit out of some bankers—
but all we could do was sit back down
on the couch, and drink another beer,
and our helplessness smacked of
cat piss.

So we dragged it outside
and bludgeoned it with the sledgehammer.
Then we took the ax to its back, its arms and legs
and middle, the springs coiled up inside like large and small
intestines spilling out in the yard as we chopped and hacked,
breathing hard from the hard work of beating
the crap out of something you might have
caressed in another life, or another
house, one without a cat with
a urinary tract infection,
or one without

an adjustable rate mortgage,
an ARM you want to break but can’t—
so you look around for something else to break,
and it could be your banker or it could be your cat or it could be
someone you loved in another life, or maybe even in this life.
And it feels good to do this. But then it begins
to feel like an indiscretion. And then
like a desecration. And then
it begins, like a death—
a death with its own


Against Beauty

“It’s an affliction,” she said,
brushing away a strand of hair
from her smooth forehead.
Or was she brushing away
a tear? It was difficult
to tell. He’d been focused on
her lips, wondering how it would
feel to be kissing them,
even as she was saying it:
“It’s an affliction. It’s like
a disfigurement, or a severe
speech impediment. People stare.
They feed. They look, then look away,
then look some more. It’s like
that dream where you’ve come to school
in nothing but your underwear.”
As her lips formed the word ‘underwear’
he felt a devastatingly sweet
gasp in the loins, and he looked up
into her eyes which were unmistakably
full of tears. “Attraction is
the opposite of repulsion,” she said,
“and opposites attract. So people
love you and they hate you
just for being beautiful. And you
begin to hate yourself for not
knowing yourself. For who
can know beauty?” she asked,
and she burst into tears, draping
her slender trickling arms around
his thick neck. He was a man with
a great thirst. And she was a body
of water, slipping through his fingers.


Honda Pavarotti
                        after Hoagland

My Aunt Hannah loved Pavarotti
so when she came to Boston for the second
opinion on the leg, he was belting it out
on the tape deck in my car parked live
outside the diabetes hospital. Live parking
is when your body waits in your car
the way a soul waits in a body idling
in a hospital. And when the doctor said
she would have to lose the leg or else
we would surely lose Aunt Hannah and that
was his expert opinion, for which he surely
would charge an arm and a leg, she looked
like a book you can’t read because it’s closed
and leaning its stiff and fraying spine against
the closed book of your cousin walking slowly
beside her toward your car. So what I did was
I cranked up the volume because I knew
my Aunt Hannah loved Pavarotti, but after
she’d lowered the wreck-in-progress of her
body into the front seat, she angrily clicked
the music off. And the aria died right there
in the dead air of my car. So I put it in drive and
we went screeching out of there without a word.  


Paul Hostovsky is the author of three books of poetry: Bending the Notes (2008), Dear Truth (2009), and A Little in Love a Lot (2011). His poems have won a Pushcart Prize and been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer’s Almanac, and Best of the Net 2008 and 2009.