cover image On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths

On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths

Lucia Perillo. Copper Canyon (Consortium, dist.), $22 (94p) ISBN 978-1-55659-397-0

Perillo has long lived with, and written about, her struggle with debilitating multiple sclerosis. Her bracing sixth book of poems, published concurrently with her debut story collection, takes an unflinching, though not unsmiling, look at mortality. Perillo has a penchant for dark humor, for jokes that stick. She muses, in one grimly amusing poem, on “those who have drifted through thus far of their allotted/ fifty or seventy or ninety years on Earth/ with no disasters happening,” using poetry as a way to “meditate against my envy/ aimed at those who drift inside the bubble of no trouble.” But Perillo isn’t petty; for her, despite the joking tone, the stakes are always high. The book is full of practical advice, including instructions on “The freak-out” which “wants wide open space,/ though the rules call for containment—// there are the genuine police to be considered/ which is why I recommend the empty vestibule.” It’s also full of a kind of transcendent resolve only harsh experience can bring: “no matter what has happened since,/... / the sadness of the bound-to-happen/ the ecstasy of the fragile moment,/ I know one night I narrowed my gaze/ and attended to my captaining, while the sea/ gave me more serious work than either love or speech.” (May)