On Perillo

To My Big Nose

from ‘Luck Is Luck’

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.

I think this poem is intended to be a sardonic ode to conceptual art and societal expectations about beauty. That is, a sort of kiss-off to the idea of turning up your nose (so to speak) at prejudgment or close-mindedness. But I fear that it is actually a poem about beauty being subjective – that she is now beyond the ugliness of her nose because it is that nose that (in part) defines her perspective on the world. I say “fear” because I would hope a poet would have something more to say than that beauty is in the nose of the beholder. But, I suppose this could just be my blessed rage for order talking here.

Oh, but I forget to mention that I think her images are great. This is really why I put it here.

Six other poems from ‘Luck is Luck’ can be read on the NYT review site.

[add: I just re-read what I wrote and it makes no sense. Just read the poem. 4:22 PM]

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