Michael Prior

My mother is stalking cabbage moths                            with a tennis racket. She looksmost like herself when she tenses                            then swings over rows of kale and romaineat the white specks floating through                            blue shadows. She is bisectedby the swaying frame, distanced                            by the poor resolution of the videomy sister just sent. Her left hand                            is bandaged: tendonitis from pickingcaterpillars and eggs off the leaves                            with chopsticks. As if to proveobsession is its own lineage                            I have spent hours checking the sun-stunted shiso for iridescent beetles,                            bodies tufted with fine hairslike the down on a dandelion seed,                            spent years wondering what it meantto be her or her parents, uprooted,                            dispossessed. I can see so clearlytime's possession in the way I speak—                            like her—the preference for detail,for impossible control, how my skin                            has pocked and wrinkled, the graygrowing up my temples. I am thinking                            of the time she was enrolled in an ESL class,even though she only spoke English;                            the time she told me on the phonethat because I had left, I couldn't                            come back; the time I stole twenty dollarsfrom the jar under her bed; or all the times                            she corrected my pronunciation: repeat:indistinguishable, inconsolable, inevitable                            that I won't return home for another year.By then, she will have stopped dyeing                            her hair. There are no equivalencies,only echoes. I am alone and watching                            my mother watching something aboveher head. My mother is swinging                            and missing. My mother is cryingfor her mother. My mother is referring                            to herself as Oriental. As old.The cabbage moths arrived on the coast                            in the late 19th century, just before our family.Now, these shimmering beetles                            are weighing down the leaves.When I look back, my mother                            has become indistinguishablefrom the shadows under the trees.

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Michael Prior’s most recent book of poems, Burning Province (McClelland & Stewart/Penguin Random House, 2020), won the 2020 Canada-Japan Literary Award and was a finalist for the 2021 Raymond Souster Award. He is the recipient of fellowships from the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center and the Jerome Foundation. His poems have appeared in publications like The New Republic, Poetry, Sewanee Review, Poetry Northwest, and the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day series among others.

Cover of Sewanee Review Spring 2021

Spring 2021

Sewanee, Tennessee

University of the South

Adam Ross

Managing Editor & Poetry Editor
Eric Smith

Assistant Editors
Hellen Wainaina
Jennie Vite

Founded in 1892 by the teacher and critic William Peterfield Trent, the Sewanee Review is the longest-running literary quarterly in America. The SR has published many of the twentieth century’s great writers, including T. S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Wallace Stevens, Saul Bellow, Katherine Anne Porter, Marianne Moore, Seamus Heaney, Hannah Arendt, and Ezra Pound. The Review has a long tradition of cultivating emerging talent, from excerpts of Cormac McCarthy and Flannery O’Connor’s first novels to the early poetry of Robert Penn Warren, Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, and Christian Wiman. “Whatever the new literature turns out to be,” wrote editor Allen Tate in 1944, “ it will be the privilege of the Sewanee Review to print its share of it, to comment on it, and to try to understand it.” The mission remains unchanged.

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