Michael Prior
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Like Boccaccio’s idle rich, we tell ourselves stories 

to avoid admitting we can’t 

go back. The islands in my mind, 

vaster than this island on a map. 

Here, rain’s meticulous patina. Here, 

the walled garden’s scattered windfall, 

a copper stag greening on a hill, 

the colorful names for local waterfowl: 

shags, eiders, divers, moorhens 

skirting the skeins of the River Esk.  

None of this is mine, only borrowed, 

like the book I’ve brought 

in which radiant Genji—allusive, elusive—

tosses off verse after verse 

about a dying season, while failing to imagine 

pain beyond his own. 

Where I grew up, or failed to, hawkweed burned 

along the Fraser, the Strait’s 

capricious hues. There, I overheard a language 

I never learned, countless stories 

of a camp, a war, a seiner, a delta wracked by loss 

written into law. Which of them 

remain true? When the night sky churns itself 

clear and starry after a deluge. 

When a wasp polishes its own striped coffin 

and, exhausted, turns circles 

on the sill—Then, is there a way forward if not back? 

asked a friend. Another, wondered 

why I didn’t write haiku. To say Genji, 

barring time and temerity, was cruel,

say, I’m too far removed, or It’s raining now

Say that the lessons I took but couldn’t finish

began with questions: Nani? Itsu? 

Dare? Doko? Say that inside return’s false dream 

each glittering memory, each scrap 

of voice, unfurls itself a hole.

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