Wakeful Things

Michael Prior
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?

Related Poems

Portrait of My Father as a Pianist

Behind disinfected curtains,
           beyond touch of sunrise
devouring the terrible gold

           of leaves, a man could be
his own eternal night. City
           flattened to rubble, his

surviving height a black flight
           of notes: the chip-toothed
blade and oldest anesthetic.

           Escaped convict, he climbs
wild-eyed, one hand out—
           running its twin on the rails

of a broken Steinway. Who
           has not been found guilty
of a carrion cry—the dream

           of a feathered departure
one has not earned, then fall
           back down teeming fault lines

of the flesh? Memory recedes
           into nocturne, a kingdom born
of spruce and fading light—

           he reaches in the end what
he had to begin with: fingertips
           on corrupted tissue, cathedral

of octaves in his thinning
           breath, tears like small stubborn
gods refusing to fall.