In her poem “Foley,” Lucia Perillo shows us a world, the same one we live in, where things are never as they seem. Now more than ever her words ring true.
By Lucia Perillo
It is Harrison Ford who just saved the world,
but when he walks down a dirt road toward the ultralarge sun
what sounds like his boots are really bricks being drudged
through a boxful of coffee beans. And the mare you’ve seen
clopping along those 19th-century pebbles –
she’s a coconut struck by a ball-peen hammer.
And the three girls riding in the hansom,
where the jouncing rustles their silk-and-bone:
that’s a toothbrush moving across birchbark.
Even the moment when one kickboxer’s perfect body
makes contact with the other kickboxer’s perfect body
has nothing to do with kickboxing, or bodies,
but the concrete colliding with the abstract of perfection,
which molts into a leather belt spanking a side of beef.
This is the problem with movies:
go to enough of them and pretty soon the world
starts sounding wrongly synced against itself: e.g.
last night when I heard a noise below my bedroom window
that sounded like the yowl a cat would make
if its tongue were being yanked backwards out its ass.
Pain, I thought. Help, I thought,
so at 2 am I went outside with a flashlight
and found a she-cat corkscrewed to a tom,
both of them humped and quivering where the beam flattened
against the grass whose damp was already wicking
through my slippers. Aaah…love, I thought,
or some distantly-cousined feline analogue of love,
or the feline analogue of the way love came out of the radio
in certain sixties pop songs that had the singer keening
antonyms: how can something so right feel so wrong,
so good hurt so bad…you know what I’m talking about.
And don’t you think it’s peculiar:
in the first half of the sixties they made the black girl-groups
sing with white accents and in the second half of the sixties
they made the white girl-groups sing with black accents,
which proves that what you hear is always
some strange alchemy of what somebody thinks you’ll pay for
and what you expect. Love in particular
it seems to me we’ve never properly nailed down
so we’ll know it when we hear it coming, the way
screaming “Fire!” means something to the world.
I remember this guy who made noises against my neck
that sounded like when after much tugging on a jar lid
you stick a can opener under its lip – that little suck.
At first I thought this must be
one of love’s least common dialects, though later
when I found the blue spots all over I realised
it was malicious mischief, it was vandalism, it was damage.
Everybody has a story about the chorus of these
love’s faulty hermeneutics: the muffler in retreat
mistaken for the motor coming, the declaration
of loathing construed as the minor reproach;
how “Babe can I borrow 55 bucks?”
gets dubbed over “Goodbye, chump” – of course,
of course, and you slap your head but it sounds funny,
not enough sizzle, not enough snap. If only
Berlitz had cracked the translations or we had conventions
like the international code of semaphores,
if only some equivalent of the Captain Nemo decoder ring
had been muscled across the border. As it has
for my friend who does phone sex
because it’s a job that lets her keep at her typewriter all day,
tapping out poems. Somehow she can work
both sides of her brain simultaneously, the poem
being what’s really going on and the sex being what sounds
like what’s going on; the only time she stops typing
is when she pinches her cheek away from her gums,
which is supposed to sound like oral sex
though she says it’s less that it really sounds like oral sex
than that these men have established a pact, a convention
that permits them to believe it sounds like oral sex.
When they know
it’s a woman pinching her cheek and not a blow job,
it’s a telephone call and not a blow job,
it’s a light beam whistling down a fibre, for god’s sake,
and not a blow job. Most days I’m amazed
we’re not all schizophrenics, hearing voices
that have been edited out of what calls to us
from across the fourth wall. I’ve heard
that in To Have and Have Not Lauren Bacall’s singing
comes from the throat of a man; also that Bart Simpson is really
a middle-aged woman; and last week not once but twice
I heard different women wailing
in public parking lots, the full-throttle
of unrestrained grief, and both times I looked straight at them
and pretended nothing unusual was going on,
as though what I was hearing were only the sound of air
shrieking through the spoiler on someone’s Camaro.
That’s also part of the pact my friend’s talking about,
not to offer condolence, not to take note.
You don’t tell the men they’re sorry creatures,
you don’t ask the women what went wrong.
If you’re being mugged or raped or even killed,
you have to scream “Fire!” instead of “Help!”
to get someone to help you. Though soon, if not already,
all the helpers will have caught on
and then you’ll have to start screaming something else,
like that you’ve spotted Bacall or Harrison Ford on the street,
Bart Simpson even – no wait a minute, he’s not real,
though I remember a time when even the President talked about him
as if he were human. It’s not the sleaziness
of phone sex I bristle at, but rather the way it assists
the world in becoming imprecise
about what is real and what is not, what is a blow job
and what is only my friend jimmying her finger
in her mouth or making a sucky noise
against the back of her hand. Which is oddly exactly
how the professor of the ornithology class I took my junior year
taught us to lure birds in, because birds
would think these were the sounds of other birds.
And in that other life of mine,
when bird-watching was part of what I did for a living,
I remember packing high into the mountains
before the snow melted, when the trail couldn’t be followed
so mine would be the only soul for miles.
One reason I went up there was because at sundown
when the wind climbed the backs of the mountains
along with the spreading violet light,
you could hear the distinct murmuring that the Indians said
were the collective voices of the dead. And I’d lie there,
just my sleeping bag and pad set down on snow,
and I’d look hard at the sky, as though
the wind were something I could see if I looked hard enough,
listening equally hard to convince myself
about the voices of the dead, though always
I was tugged back from true belief
by that one side of my brain that insisted: Wind.
And also I remember
how once at the trailhead a man popped out of his motor home
and pointed a camcorder at me, asking
where I was going, what I was doing – though of course,
alone, I wasn’t going to say.
But even as I turned away, I heard
the whirr of the movie being made
and the man making up his own narration: see this little girl,
she says she’s going to climb a mountain,
and briefly I thought about pulling a Trotsky on him
with my ice axe. But as the new-agers say I
“let it go”, and I left,
and he didn’t follow me, and nothing bad ever happened,
though from time to time I think about strangers watching that movie
in the man’s living room, his voice overdubbing
(see this little girl, she says she’s going to climb a mountain)
the sound of me, of my boots walking.