Lucia Perillo’s fifth book of poems, Inseminating the Elephant, was published in 2009 by Copper Canyon, and her book of essays, I’ve Heard the Vultures Singing, is now out in paperback from Trinity University Press. Her last book of poems, Luck Is Luck, was a finalist for the L.A. Times prize and won the Kingsley-Tufts award from Claremont University.
Perillo’s poem, “The Wolves of Illinois,” was published in the Winter 2009-10 edition of Ploughshares, guest edited by Tony Hoagland. View the Winter 2009-10 issue.
Excerpt from “The Wolves of Illinois”:
Plus what about the man’s pity for the white girl with coyote in her mouth
—coyote in two syllables, the rancher’s pronunciation–
when wolf is stronger. I wondered whether he was saving face before his family when he said, “No, those are wolves”
After the jump, Perillo talks about taking on the impossible.
“The Wolves of Illinois”
I wrote a draft and left it unfinished because I
was not comfortable with the subject of race, which seemed off-limits
for a white person. But about a year later I read a Major Jackson essay
that appeared in the American Poetry Review. Jackson was lobbying for
more poets to jump into these waters; however, his essay also pointed
out the faults of several white poets’ efforts when they attempted to
write about African-Americans, which left me feeling that it was
impossible for a white poet to tackle race in a competent way. The topic was a self-silencing conundrum.
This was about a year before the presidential election.
The best my poem could do, I thought, would be to recognize its
inadequacies. The speaker of the poem is self-promoting, imperious, both
tentative and smug: what we all fear ourselves to be. And are, at least
in part, which leads to the prevalent human condition of self-loathing.
Our tortures allow us a shared humanity.
And yet we want to be RIGHT–knowing this about ourselves is another
torment. And whence comes that interior mandate to impose our right-ness
on other people? I haven’t a clue. Much easier to be an animal and only
have to worry about getting one’s entrails ripped out.