What I Know About
When I was ten years old, a traveling mime came to our
school. He mimed being trapped on all sides by an invisible
wall. He mimed climbing a ladder up and up, never getting
One time a horse bit me and suddenly I knew violet smell
of snow, gaping loneliness of the sunlit world, complacency
of cows, and that the devil comes down from the moon,
pockets full of thunderstorm and lily. I knew the business
of being big and a constant vague watery twirly old hunger.
I knew the smell of danger and rolling eye madness and
that dead people still have thoughts and girls adore fathers
and lives get knit together like bone and fractures might
It gnaws with blunt teeth, clings with claws that pierce and
grip, is a sudden, jagged, downward pulling motion cutting
off breath. Heart squirms on a fishhook, or is it a worm
turning? The worm lives in the dark and is mostly asleep
until something, anything, wakes it. The worm becomes
dragon but know this about dragons: any power capable of
large scale destruction can also create pristine lakes where
pleasure boats might toss gently in the breeze.
The true problem of philosophy is who does the dishes,
said Nicanor Parra. But what I really want to talk about is
Cuban music. Intones repeat spirals activating deepest pre-
conscious need and reflexive metempsychotic inward
falling wholly loving for half a lifetime never touching a
piano chanting anti-poems of hunger and starburst. You (I)
ran away to an island and hid. Here, we are superstitious
about sinks because who knows to what maleficent
subterraneas these pipes lead to, tubes all connected up
through which intent climbs to balance on a duct no eye
can see? Then the sudden abundant brief sucking note of
I was making out with this really cool Black girl in the back
of a ‘59 Chevy. Suddenly she reached in and pulled out my
intestines. There they were, just sort of dangling outside
my body, still attached and apparently working. The only
surprising thing about it was the pain. She assured me I’d
like it in a minute. Through the fogged windows we
watched snow falling on night and I believed her.
Day has ended. The long grass is cool. I realize that if I
want anything in life, I’m going to have to crawl through
mud to get it, but the next day at the pool, reading a thick
sci-fi paperback, I suddenly know, and I mean really know,
that there is nothing to accomplish.
Review by Sheldon Lee Compton
This set of six blocked pieces is a great example of one of my favorite forms. Listing can accomplish a lot fast, and in this piece Perkins makes good use of it. Of the six, half of them are overwhelmingly melancholy. Two others are surreal, and one stands powerfully alone and optimistic. The first—“Sadness”—is the most obviously negative, and also my favorite. Short and straightforward, the mime puts across a clear message in a short space: “He mimed climbing a ladder up and up, never getting / anywhere.” The thought of a ten-year-old child picking up such a pessimistic perspective so early on sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The single optimistic piece, “Jealously,” begins in a similar dark tone but moves slowly toward a hopeful closing, “The worm becomes / dragon but know this about dragons: any power capable of / large scale destruction can also create pristine lakes where / pleasure boats might toss gently in the breeze.” Although the overall feeling is sad and fatalistic, the best of the six are not negative or positive but surreal, with one telling of someone bitten by a horse who is then infused with information only known in the world of horses. Perkins uses the listing form to great effect in “What I Know About” through these shifts and fresh perspectives.
Review by Calvin Jolley
In “What I Know About,” Perkins writes about sadness and sympathy and jealousy and philosophy and love, and, after all, transcendence: “there is nothing to accomplish,” she ends, and by so saying, transcends its making.