Poem of the Day: ‘The Body Mutinies’ by Lucia Perillo

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

When the doctor runs out of words and still
I won’t leave, he latches my shoulder and
steers me out doors.

So begins Lucia Perillo’s “The Body Mutinies,” from our February 1996 issue. Perillo passed away last October after decades of living with and writing about multiple sclerosis. She was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 30, and her awareness of her mortality and struggles with her failing body shaped her often humorous, often heartbreaking verse in the years that followed.

In “The Body Mutinies,” Perillo deals with the dazed realization of a new kind of life in the immediate aftermath of diagnosis with affecting simplicity and clarity. Here are a few more lines:

& me not griefstruck yet but still amazed: how
words and names—medicine’s blunt instruments—
undid me

Read the full poem here. Then, take a look at Perillo’s more metaphysical “Pharaoh,” from our October 2010 issue.