Lucia Perillo

No Exit: In the Studio


In what computer people call the meat world, I wrote always in a place that had a
window. Otherwise there’s not much to say (a door rests on top of two filing cabinets
that have been moved from window to window.) Of more interest is the internal studio.
What to call it—encephalic? Virtual? Made-from-meat-yet-not? The broodio? The

Here’s a picture, because what we find most titillating about this column is the image
that gives us a glimpse of the poet’s actual furniture and rugs.

Though I am not enough of a scientist to be able work out the mind-body
correspondences, like anybody else I start in the deep hub that’s said to be reptilian. It’s
also where the doctor saw something anomalous when she looked at my brain scans, a
wispy streak like a the tail of a comet trailing across my corpus callosum (I knew it was
bad when she called it interesting.) So the generative reptile center is defective, and what
comes out of it is scrambled, gnarled, free? (the hospitable way to say it) from
conventional language. Or you could say the place is a wreck, and what comes out of it
is gibberish.

Snaky gibberish: you can see that a childish sensibility is responsible for the design of the
studio. There’s a room with spongy walls, a gag that the child of me was threatened
with: The men in the white coats are going to come and lock you up in a rubber room.
The good thing about the broodio is that it’s transportable, but the bad thing is that it
can’t not be ported. You’re locked up to smash your head against the walls, trying to
make sense of the reptile fragments—you’re not supposed to be able to hurt yourself
here, though I often find the early stages of a poem painful. (The doctor reported that I
had encephalomalacia, which I discovered meant soft in the head, another phrase from
childhood, my grandmother’s expression, which corroborates my figment of the rubber

And there’s a chamber where the walls creep inward to crush what’s inside (must be
derived from my childhood obsession with Secret Agent 99). That’s what happens when
an acceptable strip of language is finally produced; it gets crushed and uncrushed,
crumpled and crunched (to jump again from mind to body, the pictures of my brain show
some hard black granules that ought not to be there. I think of them as a residue of this
crunching process.)

Like my real rooms, the studipod has a window is where I take the crinkled shape once
it’s dusted off. There I am indeed pleased with myself, though the light somehow (as in
that childhood lemon-juice trick) turns my lines moronic, and I slink back to the reptile
hub to sulk The broodio is an echo chamber where I yell out questions: Who are you,
anyway? What do you sound like? The questions just bounce back. I am almost 50
years old by the calendar, I should know who I am by now, but I am still not fully

There’s a nook with a bathtub, where the paper goes limp and my skin goes wrinkled and
pink so that I am part baby and part old man. There’s a nook with the bower made of
leaves and a nook with a lumpy mattress on the floor. Of course this list is only partial—
when I try to imagine the encephalic studio, what comes to mind is Borges’ infinite
library, a complex hive.

As far as meat-world studios go, I like the description of Walt Whitman’s, in the
bedroom of the house he finally acquired at age sixty-five, in Camden, New Jersey. He
kept everything strewn about, poem next to receipt next to shoe on the floor, and he
stirred this dusty soup with the crook of his walking stick when he needed to extract a
fragment. The necessary scrap always rose to the surface, or what rose was made to suit
his purposes. Whatever arrived by chance was right.

In the mess of my encephaludio, I keep company with the crunched shapes until I finally
acquiesce to them. It’s less a place where I write than it’s a place where I relent to what
I’ve written. This takes time. Most of the square footage is devoted to waiting, a waiting
room without comfortable chairs.

At last the acquiescence happens, sometimes, and then it’s time to move into the more
forgiving studio of the mouth, with its nice soft tongue. La la la—ouch. Don’t forget the

Lucia Perillo

 Lucia  Perillo

Lucia Perillo's most recent book is Inseminating the Elephant (Copper Canyon Press, 2010). Her previous book of poems, Luck is Luck, was published by Random House in 2005 and was awarded the Kingsley Tufts prize from Claremont University. Her poetry and prose also earned her a MacArthur fellowship in 2000. She lives in Olympia, Washington.

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