Virtual Event: Valzhyna Mort and Michael Prior

Posted in 2021-2022 Readings and Talks

Left: Valzhyna Mort headshot. Right: Michael Prior headshot.

January 25, 2022 at 7PM ET

Moderated by Carolyn Forché

To Antigone, a Dispatch

—Valzhyna Mort

Antigone, dead siblings
are set. As for the living,
pick me for a sister.

I, too, love a proper funeral.
Drag, Dig, and Sisters’ Pop-Up Burial.

I make the rounds of graves
keeping up my family’s
topnotch properties.

On a torture instrument
called an accordion
I stretch my fingers
into those of a witch.

My guts have been emptied
like bellows
for the best sound.

Once we settle your brother,
I’ll show you forests
of the unburied dead.
We’ll clean the way only two sisters
can clean a house:
no bones scattered like dirty socks,
no ashes at the bottom of kneecaps.

Why bicker with husbands about dishes
when we’ve got mountains of skulls to shine?

Labor and retribution we’ll share, not girly secrets.

Brought up by dolls and monuments,
I have the bearings of a horse and a bitch,
I’m waterproof,
I’m cement in tears.

You can spot my graves from afar,
marble like newborn skin.

Here, history comes to an end
like a movie
with rolling credits of headstones,

like a movie
with nameless credits of mass graves.

Every ditch, every hill is suspect.

Pick me for a sister, Antigone.
In this suspicious land
I have a bright shovel of a face.

From Music for the Dead and Resurrected (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020)

Read more about Valzhyna Mort.

My Father’s Birthday Is the Day Before Mine

—Michael Prior

The last train pulses across the pane
and fireflies spark beside the tracks.
Acne’s red wing flames my face:
I can’t take back

this skin. In the other room,
a drugstore Timex synchronizes
with the faucet’s drip. If I squint,
the fireflies align their lives

to map the summer’s migraine
of flowers that were weeds.
You say, but I think
they’re just trying to survive —

cheap bulbs, they burn out in two weeks.
The train rattles as its links shift
and scrape like the dark between days.
From across the continent,

my father texts:
your mother hiked halfway up the hill
behind the cabin / a graceful
mountain goat. Is this love?

Lately, I’ve been writing you letters
that I shred about that blood-orange eclipse —
sleep’s determined murmurs
of eyelid and lash.

The fireflies are sunset’s ash.
I realize I have no means
by which to make you a present of the past,
where my father once cowered

behind the June sunflowers,
bloodied by the dog chain his father
had swung — not at his son,
but at the fear

of being left without one.
The fireflies stutter like an apology.
I would be lying to you
if I didn’t admit I love them.

From Poetry (December 2017)

Read more about Michael Prior.

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