Two Poems


Wildroses, horsetails, wind’s cobwebs over water:
summers here since I first learned to swim.
The poplars across the bay shimmer and sway,
reflections creasing under the weather
like molten glass. To think that mirror once meant
both to wonder and look back—the way
I’ve stared into a fun-house pane and seen my mixed face
split then doubled.
I’ve stared into a fun-North, the rocks are choked with millwort.
South, starlings rustle through the cedars:
introduced by a man who spent his life importing
every bird in Shakespeare. New worlds
forever measured by the Old. For every measure,
an equal and opposite erasure. How, over the fire,
the family friend said Jap, not Japanese.


Self-Portrait As a Portrait of My Grandfather, December 8, 1941

If a memory bears radiation’s
relationship to time; if his eyes are
and are not mine; if strawberries once
rotted in muddy crates on a farm
unfarmed and seized. Then, a reborn face’s
parabolic features curve an axis
never crossed; then, salt and silver nitrate
scribe light’s dictation on the page

of them and us—of me and him—of fear’s vindictive
aperture and frame. Of how what’s outside
fades what’s within—or how a cold sun gathers in my eyes,
my hair, my mind, like half-lives
borne on wind. How half alive and half asleep,
each waxen pore’s single seed.

Michael Prior‘s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Narrative, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day Series, PN Review, The New Republic, The Walrus, and The Asian American Writers Workshop’s The Margins. His second book of poems, Burning Province, will be published by McClelland & Stewart/Penguin Random House in spring 2020.