20 / 20
Release me from seeing, from being seen: the gorge’s
flaking shale, the teens in Converse
skidding down its ribs, the canals wrapped in their
winter foil. All constituents of a city called is, called was.
Once, a stranger on the train mistook me
for a ghost. I wasn’t, but in retrospect might have
seemed. That night, I felt the tidal ebb in my earl grey.
Was the sensation mine alone? Look upon me
and I’ll show you the life of the mind, its cistern
of brackish water, iron laden, red, its magnetic whisper:
due north, due west. I can’t decide
whether I’m passing by or passing into this pulse
between estuary and sky, bound on all sides like the ocean
within a cell. I scuff my soles on the boards
of the dock. Above: my life in transit
among a thousand bright circuits. Below: its gradient
patina of rust. I’ve seen things you people
wouldn’t believe. Somewhere along the Pacific,
a retriever drags a mallard by wingtip
towards another city obscured by mist.
Eyes shut, I see them again and again.
Never Been Better
We put too much trust in Google Maps,
but arrived regardless. The guardrails
girding the boulevard: distended
under ice. The slate shined a snail’s
hemoglobin stain. There was no rain.
Where the ambulance
and the funeral home share an owner,
it’s best to only be passing
through. Amphetamine squirrels
thrummed shadow oaks. Cats stretched
into stillness as if to sun.
My best reflection remained
a revolving door’s tinted glass
as we exited, older, onto an unpaved street.
You: A design that described time
while being of it. By the end,
I was so moved I couldn’t move.
This wasn’t the intent—starlings
massing a single mind above
the slatted fields, the suburban creep,
the tentworm constellations. Everyplace
three, three and a half hours away.
We blew a tire on a pothole
outside Penticton, past countless flags
limp on sills, and a wrong way sign
hung upside down. In town,
kids sloshed along the riverbed
with buckets and nets. One was saying,
I’m sorry. Another was cupping
something in his hands.
after Katherine Anne Porter
Where are my people? Past the cannery
sloughing into ocean and the maples
reddening shallows along the overpass,
you say, It’s all water under the bridge.
So, I wonder which bridge. Behind: the bonsai
choking on its dollar-store pot, and the cat,
who belongs to no one and therefore
everyone. The basis of human relations,
you explain, as our car compasses the bay.
And my own time? When frogs roiled
across the highway slick with rain
and herons swayed on stilts, waiting
for the storm to cease. The shidare we failed
broke its spine’s lightning crease. Sludge
dulled the sidewalk, crows coveted
nightfall from the eaves—louder, even,
than the thunder. The mud drained from
my boots like a leash or a line tied to gravity,
tied to sea. And what horse shall I ride?
The dark one. The bright one. The one
without eyes. The one thrashing among
the cranberry bog’s weave. The one that missed
the sugar in your palm, leaving scars
I mistook for seams. The one that wore
through the steel of his shoes. The one you told
to not look back, who did, and saw you were
afraid. The one who never looked like
a horse. Or the one that stretched its neck
and tore the last leaf, dripping, from the tree.
Michael Prior is a Japanese Canadian writer. A past winner of Matrix Magazine’s Lit Pop Award (2015), The Walrus’s Poetry Prize (2014), and Grain’s Short Grain Contest (2014), Michael’s first book of poems, Model Disciple, will be published by Véhicule Press in Spring 2016. He currently is an MFA candidate in poetry at Cornell University.