A Readymade by Lucia Perillo
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.