• The Violin

    Matthew Olzmann

    Spring 2022

    Upon hearing that Nero played the violin
    while Rome burned, I ask: When and how
    could he have ever learned to play that instrument?
    It is, frankly, an astonishing feat, considering
    the amount of time he invested in riding
    chariots, not governing, murdering his mother,
    yearning to be an actor, the Parthian war,
    a revolt in the new province of Britain,
    the annexation of the Bosporan Kingdom,
    midnight parties, building hotels, and so on.
    It’s also impressive because the violin
    didn’t exist and wouldn’t be invented
    for another fifteen hundred years. That alone
    would prevent lesser men from learning
    to coax a song from an instrument’s fingerboard
    and bridge, but not Nero; he pressed
    his nonexistent violin beneath his chin
    and made it wail above the ashes. Some men
    are just ahead of their times. That’s why,
    whenever any modern Caesar says don’t worry
    about the plague roiling the streets, I don’t.

    Matthew Olzmann is the author of Constellation Route as well as two previous collections of poetry: Mezzanines and Contradictions in the Design. He teaches at Dartmouth College and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

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