“Wakeful Things,” by 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?

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