My Pronunciation Was Wrong

by Michael Prior

Michael Prior is a Japanese Canadian writer. His poems have recently appeared in Poetry, Ambit, The Fiddlehead, The New Quarterly, and The Walrus. A past winner of Magma Poetry’s Editors’ Prize, Matrix Magazine’s Lit POP Award, and The Walrus’s Poetry Prize, he was named a 2016 Writer-to-Watch by the CBC. His first book of poems, Model Disciple (Véhicule Press, 2016), made year-end lists from CBC, The League of Canadian Poets, and The Walrus.

She said, Forget the dishes and He hit me with a wooden spoon
until I bled. Passed from one family
to another in the camp, she wore tin cans like stilts, drew circles
in the dirt. She wasn’t my mother
at first. Terrible at Blackjack, Texas Hold ’em, her stepfather
sent letters frantic for cash. Each written
in a different hand. Penticton. Kelowna. No Japs from the Rockies to the sea.
Baskets of Braeburns. Serene, the orchard’s
auburn waves of leaves and branches. School all day, worked until
she slept. Ironed and swept. Fried
kippers and eggs. Put someone else’s kids to bed. The smell of dried fish.
Everyone fights sometimes. It’s fine;
they fed me every day. Her husband shouted in his sleep about sawmills,
houses built from dust. She
tended theirs, pruned the garden’s rising swathes of summer.
There was too much left unsaid.
To me: Shikata ga nai and Leave your sister alone. She liked
pickled shiso, Sir Roger Moore,
and Hallmark Christmas ornaments. Disliked: flying and talking about
the past. Once, I watched her feed sugar water
to a honeybee with a spoon. Silver coins she couldn’t afford slipped from
her palm to mine. She said, Don’t tell
your mother and Sharted is an excellent word. A man lost all her money,
twice. Saltwater. Slatted blinds.
Sallow moon that spawns along the Fraser. Riverside apartments
in diminishing square footage.
Coquitlam to Richmond, Richmond to Surrey. That undistinguished
block of Hastings, where her
stepmother’s shop once stood. In front of us, she never said her given name.

 


Michael Prior is a Japanese Canadian writer. His poems have recently appeared in Poetry, Ambit, The Fiddlehead, The New Quarterly, and The Walrus. A past winner of Magma Poetry’s Editors’ Prize, Matrix Magazine’s Lit POP Award, and The Walrus’s Poetry Prize, he was named a 2016 Writer-to-Watch by the CBC. His first book of poems, Model Disciple (Véhicule Press, 2016), made year-end lists from CBC, The League of Canadian Poets, and The Walrus.

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