Michael Prior is a writer and teacher born in Vancouver, Canada. He is the author of two books of poems: Burning Province (McClelland & Stewart/Penguin Random House, 2020), which won the Canada-Japan Literary Award and the BC & Yukon Book Prizes’ Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, and Model Disciple (Véhicule Press, 2016). Prior is the recent recipient of fellowships from the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center, the Jerome Foundation, and Hawthornden Literary Retreat. His poems have appeared in Poetry, The New Republic, Narrative Magazine, the Sewanee Review, PN Review, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day series, and elsewhere. He is an Assistant Professor of English and an ACM Mellon Faculty Fellow at Macalester College.
You should never put the new antlers of a deer
to your nose and smell them. They have little
insects that crawl into the nose and devour the brain.
—Kenkō, Essays in Idleness
Consider that the insects might be metaphor.
That the antlers’ wet velvet scent
might be Proust’s madeleine dipped into a cup of tea
adorned with centrifugal patterns of azalea
and willow—those fleshing the hill behind this room,
walls wreathed in smoke and iron, musk
of the deer head above the mantle. He was nailed in place
before I was me. Through the floorboards,
a caterpillar, stripped from its chrysalis by red ants,
wakes, as if to a house aflame. Silk
frays like silver horns, like thoughts branching from a brain.
After the MRI, my father’s chosen father squinted
at the wormholes raveling the screen
and said, Be good to one another. Love, how inelegantly
we leave. How insistent we are to return in one form
or another. I wish all of this and none of it
for us: more sun, more tempest, more
fear and fearlessness—more of that which is tempered, carved,
and worn, creased into overlapping planes. The way
I feel the world’s aperture enlarge in each morning’s
patchwork blur of light and colour while I fumble
for my glasses beside the bed—lenses smudged
by both our hands. When they were alive,
those antlers held up the sky. Now what do they hold?
Originally published in Poem-a-Day by the Academy of American Poets.
- Michael Prior’s Website.
- “The Transmutation of Fire: An Interview with Michael Prior” curated by Wendy Che. Tupelo Quarterly. 14 July 2020.
- “Book review: Light, flame and memory, Michael Prior’s Burning Province illuminates all it touches” by Tom Sandborn. Vancouver Sun. 21 August 2020
Reading | January 25, 2022