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?
Copyright © 2018 by Michael Prior. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 18, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
“The poem's epigraph comes from Kenkō's fourteenth century zuihitsu, whose beautiful and often bewilderingly juxtaposed prose fragments are filled with advice, anecdotes, and meditations on impermanence.”