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A Readymade by Lucia Perillo

A Readymade

by Lucia Perillo


Out of nowhere the phone rings, and the voice

of a fat man answers: Hell-low bay-bee . . .

each syllable its own word. “Chantilly Lace”:

a song not sung so much as fumbled through,

a manifesto of befuddlement and pleasure—call it

a little game between “I” and “me” said Marcel Duchamp

when asked why he’d hang a porcelain urinal

in the Grand Central exhibition, where people

would be expecting to see . . . well, something else.

Something not a urinal. It is a matter of record

the fat man’s name was J. P. Richardson, a.k.a.

The Big Bopper, whose purchase on history boils down

to these questions: Do I what? and Will I what?

Plus the fact of his going down in the plane

that also killed Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly

the night my head was battering the gates

of my mother’s cervix—when the phone rang for me,

by God I was going to answer (hello baby).

The problem is usually not so much what to include

as what to leave out: you can see how the urinal

establishes a precedent for putting any

old thing up there on the wall—a snow shovel,

a bicycle seat, a “Do I what?” a “Will I what?”

Pretty soon all you’d want to do is play chess

as a way of narrowing the field—I am only

a breather Duchamp said later, and the urinal

got thrown away by someone who mistook it for trash.

Some distinctions elude us, such as whether

the Beechcraft did or did not disappear

in a preternaturally glowing cloud, the night

the world asked Will I what? and I said

Yes. Shucked off my animal-skin coat

and left it scattered among the wreckage

the day the music died, in an otherwise empty field.




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