The New York Times
Luck Is Luckby Lucia Perillo
From the snowy egret to a woman’s floating rib, nudism in America to Holy Communion, Simone de Beauvoir to Nathan’s hot dogs–the subjects in Lucia Perillo’s fourth collection of poetry lift off from surprising places and touch down on new ground. Hers is a vision like no other. In “To My Big Nose,” she muses: “hard to imagine what the world would have looked like / if not seen through your pink shadow. / You who are built from random parts / like a mythical creature–a gryphon or sphinx–.”
Fearless, focused, ironic, irreverent, truly and deeply felt, the poems in Luck Is Luck draw upon the circumstances of being a woman, the harsh realities of nature, the comfort of familiar things, and universally recognizable anxieties about faith and grief, love and desire. In “Languedoc,” she writes, “Long ago / I might have been attracted by your tights and pantaloons / but now they just look silly, ditto for your instrument / that looks like a gourd with strings attached / (the problem is always the strings attached).”
Perillo’s versions of nature are always unflinching: “Most days back then I would walk by the shrike tree, / a dead hawthorn at the base of a hill. / The shrike had pinned smaller birds on the tree’s black thorns / and the sun had stripped them of their feathers. / . . . well, hard luck is luck, nonetheless. / With a chunk of sky in each eye socket. / And the pierced heart strung up like a pearl.”
Down-to-earth, full of playful twists of language, and woven from grand themes in an accessible, appealing way, these poems pierce the heart and delight the mind. Not one word is wasted.
The New York Times
- Random House Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt
Christ died for us, Paul taught? How strange
A god should think a man’s requirements so
To My Big Nose
Hard to believe there were actual years
when I planned to have you cut from my face—
hard to imagine what the world would have looked like
if not seen through your pink shadow.
You who are built from random parts
like a mythical creature—a gryphon or sphinx—
with the cartilage ball attached to your tip
and the plaque where the bone flares at the bridge
like a snake who has swallowed a small coin.
Seabird beak or tanker prow
with Modigliani nostrils, like those strolled out
from the dank studio and its close air,
with a swish-swish whisper from the model’s silk robe
as it parts and then falls shut again.
Then you’re out on the sidewalk of Montparnasse
with its fumes of tulips and clotted cream
and clotted lungs and cigars and sewers—
even fumes from the lobster who walks on a leash.
And did his owner march slowly
or drag his swimmerets briskly along
through the one man’s Parisian dogturd that is
the other man’s cutting-edge conceptual art?
So long twentieth century, my Pygmalion.
So long rhinoplasty and the tummy tuck.
Let the vowels squeak through my sinuses
like wet sheets hauled on a laundry line’s rusty wheels.
Oh I am not so dumb as people have made me out,
what with your detours when I speak,
and you are not so cruel, though you frightened men off
all those years when I thought I was running the show,
pale ghost who has led me like a knife
continually slicing the future stepped into,
oh rudder/wing flap/daggerboard, my whole life
turning me this way and that.
Southern France, the troubadour age:
all these men running around in frilly sleeves.
Each is looking for a woman he could write a song about—
or the moonlight a woman, the red wine a woman,
there is even a woman called the Albigensian Crusade.
It’s the tail end of the Dark Age
but if we wait a little longer it’ll be the Renaissance
and the forms of the songs will be named and writ down;
wait: here comes the villanelle, whistling along the pike,
repeating the same words over and over
until I’m afraid my patience with your serenade
runs out: time’s up. Long ago
I might have been attracted by your tights and pantaloons,
but now they just look silly, ditto for your instrument
that looks like a gourd with strings attached
(the problem is always the strings attached).
Langue d’oc, meaning the language of yes, as in
“Do you love me?” Oc. “Even when compared
to her who sports the nipple ring?” Oc oc.
“Will we age gracefully and die appealing deaths?”
Oc oc oc oc.
So much affirmation ends up sounding like
a murder of crows passing overhead
and it is easy to be afraid of crows—
though sometimes you have to start flapping your arms
and follow them. And fly to somewhere the signs say:
Yes Trespassing, Yes Smoking,
Yes Alcohol Allowed on Premises, Yes Shirt Yes Shoes
Yes Service Yes. Yes Loitering
here by this rocky coast whose waves are small
and will not break your neck; this ain’t no ocean, baby,
this is just the sea. Yes Swimming
Yes Bicycles Yes to Nude Sunbathing All Around,
Yes to Herniated Bathing-cappèd Veterans of World War One
and Yes to Leathery Old Lady Joggers.
Yes to their sun visors and varicose veins in back of their knees,
I guess James Joyce did get here first—
sometimes the Europeans seem much more advanced.
But you can’t go through life regretting what you are,
yes, I’m talking to you in the baseball cap,
I’m singing this country-western song that goes: Yeah!
Christmas at Forty
Everyone needs a bosom for a pillow
Lying on the couch, staring up at the tree,
listening to that Indian raga trip-hop music
that one minute sounds like panpipes from Kashmir
and the next like a knife stuck into the speakers;
whammo! it hits: how unexpected life is.
One minute you’re a punk driving around
in Eddie Butterford’s blue Dodge, hashing
out the script for whatever happens next,
something that with any luck’ll be
hallucinogenic . . . but then somehow you end up
with a whole mortgageful of ornaments in the attic
and even a green metal stand to triangulate the trunk.
And all you remember coming in between is a whole
lot of dithering about what to play
on the tape deck next—what was all the worry?
Now, in the pantry, you’ve got bottles
of liqueurs made by obscure sects of Italian monks;
in the bathroom all the vials bequeathed by your beloved
dying friends, who said, Here, take the Demerol
for a rainy day; take the Darvocet, you never know
when you might need it. Back in Eddie’s car
nobody thought death would be the dealer
who someday would drop his manna on us
& if anyone had told me about these snowmen
made from crochet pom-pom balls
I would have said, What are you, nuts?
Sometimes in those days I panhandled
just to feel what it felt like to say, Can I have
a quarter, please? and then to cower in the brimstone
I thought for sure would rain down on my head.
But people just gave me more money than I asked for
and told me to go on home, so okay:
now I’m home. Where I’ve got not just the snowmen
and the tree stand, but also a glass angel for the top—
take that, all you sanctimonious quarter-givers.
No rainy days yet, but in just a minute
I’ll take off my clothes and stomp around
with that strange guy who lives here.
After we drink to the health of the baby Jesus
with that very old brandy made from secret herbs.
Hard to pinpoint when the body starts turning.
One minute we’re Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr
heavy-petting in the surf, but then the surf pulls out
sizzling like grease and suddenly we find
ourselves no longer shrouded
by the Pacific Ocean’s glamorous foam.
Instead, I think of seals, all snout and lobe and whisker.
All gluey effluence and ectomorphic musk.
So life heavily petted was not the real goods,
it was just a decoy good—that diverted us
for a season. Before the siege of flatulence
and strange-colored moles that multiply on the neck.
And where was the warning—about how the nose
would come to claim more real estate on the head?
How the bristles multiply in all its openings:
the nostrils’ black forest, the white shrub in each ear?
No matter now, the birds and bees,
but I could have used a little heads-up about the eyebrows
(their mysterious length, their magisterial spread—)
if only to prepare me for this ancient Eastern European poet
speaking through the curved clear wall of my TV.
When his brow dips, the gray curls brush his cheeks
and I’m thinking, Man oh man—
pretty soon this guy is going to take wing.
The Crows Start Demanding Royalties
Of all the birds, they are the ones
who mind their being armless most:
witness how, when they walk, their heads jerk
back and forth like rifle bolts.
How they heave their shoulders into each stride
as if they hoped that by some chance
new bones there would come popping out
with a boxing glove on the end of each.
Little Elvises, the hairdo slicked
with too much grease, they convene on my lawn
to strategize for their class-action suit.
Flight they would trade in a New York minute
for a black muscle car and a fist on the shift
at any stale green light. But here in my yard
by the Jack-in-the-Box Dumpster
they can only fossick in the grass for remnants
of the world’s stale buns. And this
despite all the crow poems that have been written
because men like to see themselves as crows
(the head-jerk performed in the rearview mirror,
the dark brow commanding the rainy weather).
So I think I know how they must feel:
ripped off, shook down, taken to the cleaners.
What they’d like to do now is smash a phone against a wall.
But they can’t, so each one flies to a bare branch and screams.
On the Destruction of the Mir
Every night space junk falls from the sky—
usually a titanium fuel tank. Usually falling
into the ocean, or into nowhere in particular
because ours is a planet of great vacancies,
no matter how much fog would be required
in downtown Tokyo. In the Skylab days
you’d see people on the streets wearing iron
helmets, like centurions. But nowadays
we go bareheaded, as if to say to the heavens:
Wake me when I am someone else.
Like the man whose car made fast acquaintance
with what Yeats would have called the bole of a tree.
And who now believes he has written
many of the latest hits, which he will sing
for you while he splits a cord of wood:
like a virgin—whap!—like a virgin—whap!—
until he’s got enough fuel for the winter
and a million dollars stashed in an offshore bank.
You may think it’s tragic, like my Buddhist friend
who claims that any existence means suffering,
though my gay friend says, Phooey, what about
Oscar night, what about making popcorn
and wrapping up with your sweetie
in that afghan your great-aunt made so long ago?
You don’t have to dwell on the fact that she’s dead
or bring up her last unkempt year in the home,
when she’d ask anyone who walked in the door
to give her a good clunk on the head. Instead,
what about her crocheting these squares
in preposterous colors, orange and green,
though why must their clashing be brought to the fore
if the yarn was enough to keep her happy?
In fact, don’t the clashes light the sparks
in this otherwise corny thing? Which is safer
to make than a hole in the skull to let out
the off-gassing of one’s bad spirits.
As in trepanation performed by the Incas,
who traded their melancholy for a helmet
made from a turtle shell. You never know
when your brain will require such armor—
could happen sometime when you least expect.
Could even happen when you are parked
behind your desk, where a very loud thump
makes you look up to discover a robin
diving into the window again and again.
It is spring, after all, and in its reflection
the bird may have found the perfect mate:
thus doth desire propel us headlong
toward the smash. Don’t even try
translating glass into bird-speak; it only knows
it wants the one who dropped from sight.
Same one who beaned it, same one who’s perched,
glaring back from a bough of the Japanese maple
with its breast fit to burst. And behind the lace
of new leaves, there’s a wallpaper of clouds—
weighing hundreds of tons
but which float nonetheless—
in the blue sky that seemed to fit so well
when we first strapped it on our heads.
Le Deuxième Sexe
The famous Polish poet calls Simone de Beauvoir a Nazi hag
but to me she will always be her famous book,
the one with the Matisse paper cut on the cover,
a sad blue nude I took into the woods.
Where we college girls went to coax the big picture
from her, as if she could tell us how to use
all the strange blades on our Swiss army knives—
the firewood we arranged in either log cabin or tipi,
a little house built to be burned down.
Which could be a metaphor:
Simone as the wind puffing the damp flames,
a cloud with a mouth that became obsolete
once we started using gasoline. Still,
she gave me one lesson that sticks, which is:
do not take a paperback camping in the rain
or it may swell to many times its original size,
and if you start with a big book you’ll end up
with a cinder block. In that vein I pictured Simone as huge
until (much later) I read that her size was near-midget—
imagine, if we took Gertrude Stein, we’d be there still,
trying to build some kind of travois to drag her body out.
The other thing I remember: a word, immanence—
meaning, you get stuck with the cooking and laundry
while the man gets to hit on all your friends in Paris.
Sure you can put the wet book in the oven
and try baking it like a cake. But the seam will stay soggy
even when the pages rise, ruffled like French pastry.
As far as laundry goes, it’s best I steer clear,
what with my tendency to forget the tissues
wadded in my sleeves. What happens is
I think I’m being so careful, and everything
still comes out like the clearing where we woke.
Covered in flakes that were then the real thing:
snow. Which sounds more la-di-da in French.
But then the sun came up and all la neige vanished
like those chapters we grew bored with and had skipped.
The Lord’s Prayer
This is what you remember: not the words
so much as the avalanche they made being said,
how it came or not at all in one rush, one breath,
like a cart lashed to many horses. How the simple
father handed off to a chain of bewilderments
like daily bread, like hollow
and kingdom, imported for what reason
from a different kind of story, the kind with a troll
and horses that lift each foot in turn like a girl’s
bent wrist. Trespass was a sign nailed to a tree,
meaning you couldn’t go any farther, which was why
the lady squatted here to cough out her child,
a story laced inside this one
but more secret. Having to do with
where the baby came from. Having to do
with the father’s name. And long before
you saw the words written or knew much more
than that the black scratches like ants
papered everywhere in human places
were a way of making sound without sound,
the priest’s call-and-response lured you here
to the grove of this secret, the father’s
secret, which you could neither remember at first
nor stop the whoosh of its falling, once it came
in words so hard so furious in their quiet
that to this day you can’t even think
your way through them without moving your lips.
Meet the Author
LUCIA PERILLO, a 2000 MacArthur Fellow, has published three previous collections: The Oldest Map with the Name America, The Body Mutinies, for which she won the PEN/Revson Foundation Poetry Fellowship and several other awards, and Dangerous Life, which received the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. Her poems have appeared in such magazines as The New Yorker, the Atlantic, and The Kenyon Review. They also have been included in the Pushcart and Best American Poetry anthologies.
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