False Portrait of D.B. as Niccolò Paganini

Those who have lived here since before
time are gone while the ones who must
replace them have not yet arrived.

The streets are wet with a recent
rain yet you continue to count
first minutes and hours then trees

rocks, windows, mailboxes, streetlights
and pictographs refusing to
rest even for the brief span it

would take to dry off, change clothes and
reemerge grotesque yet oddly
attractive like Paganini

whose mother was visited by
a seraph in Genoa not
long before his birth and who is

thought now to have acquired much of
his technical wizardry as
a result of Marfan’s syndrome

a quite common anomaly
of the connective tissues which
may well account for the tall and

angular body, muscular
underdevelopment as well
as the hypermobile joints that

eventuated on the stage
in a peculiar stance, a
spectacular bowing technique

and an awesome mastery of
the fingerboard. He would bring his
left hip forward to support his

body’s weight. His left shoulder, thrust
forward also, would enable
him to rest his left elbow on

his chest, a buttress against the
stress of forceful bowing along
with debilitating muscle

fatigue. The looseness of the right
wrist and shoulder gave pliancy
leading to broad acrobatic

bowing. The ‘spider’ fingers of
his left hand permitted a range
on the fingerboard which many

attributed to black magic
for Paganini was said to
have signed a pact with Lucifer

to acquire virtuosity
as a small child. After his death
perhaps due in part to this tale

in part also to rumours of
gambling and wild debauchery
the Church refused to allow him

burial on hallowed ground. In   
consequence his body was moved
furtively from place to place

until after many years and
for reasons still mysterious
the Church finally relented.

A few paradoxes should be
noted as an afterward. Though
accused of charlatanism he

was rewarded for his skill like
no one before him. He loved his
violin above all yet once

he gambled it away at cards.   
He accepted wealth and renown
from his worshipping admirers

but tripled the admission price
to his concerts in the face of
adverse reviews. While openly

irreverent of tradition
he still took a princess as his lover
and let nations strike medals in his name.

“False Portrait of D.B. as Niccolio Paganini” by Michael Palmer, from The Lion Bridge. Copyright © 1998 by Michael Palmer. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.
Source: The Lion Bridge (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1998)
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